Friday, December 30, 2011

On Flying Direct And Solo

This isn't a review of a book, although, the title I will keep in mind for future manuscripts.  I have
officially given up the quest for a literary agent.  Fifty percent of them never replied to my cover letter and then I discovered something really amazing!  You do NOT have to obtain a literary agent in order to get published!  FOLKS!  THERE IS A LITERARY GOD!  After reviewing various publishing house submission guidelines, I found that yes, you can submit directly to various publishing houses.  Since my memoir revolves around my dad's second bout with lymphoma, I have noticed that literary agents tend to see the word "cancer" and literally run screaming from the room as if there hair is on fire.  Maybe they forgot about the success of Tuesdays With Morrie or The Last Lecture, but I did not.  I have always told my students that you can do anything you set your mind to and then I decided to write a memoir and attempt to get it published.  And I started doubting myself.  For Crying Out Loud I'm An English Teacher!  Who better to work with on writing and revisions?! 

Now I am sending partials of the manuscript direct to publishers.  Oh yes, I did my homework from A to Z, and I basically did the job of a literary agent in doing so as well.  Yes, there is approval of contracts, but I decided to hire my own intellectual property attorney and entirely cut out the middle-man.  You guessed it!  That's why I like piloting my own plane, being captain of my own ship, or determining my own destiny.  I have always been of the mantra, if you want something done right and well, by God, do it yourself and pray.  Additionally, I also had an editor of a  publishing house contact me about submitting the manuscript directly to him.  I could not figure out how he discovered my cover letter until he informed me an agent that works in the same building thought my manuscript had merit and brought it to his attention.  BLESS ME!  AND BLESS WHOEVER THAT MIRACULOUS LITERARY AGENT IS THAT DID NOT RUN SCREAMING FROM THE ROOM UPON SEEING THE WORD "CANCER" AND "MEMOIR".  A THOUSAND BOWS TO YOU SIR OR MA'AM!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

What You Crave Is Who You Are

Since Thanksgiving I have been reading the memoir entitled The Man Who Couldn't Eat by Jon Reiner.  In this intriguing memoir, he writes about his experiences with food.  How food links to our identity, culture, memories, and heritage.  And he also discusses how someone who considers himself a foodie also struggles with the inflammatory disorder known as Crohn's disease.   Crohn's disease appears to be inflammation of major proportions in the colon leading to extreme pain, exclusive diets, and oftentimes, long hospitalizations. 

The first thing the author remembers eating that caused him massive problems intestinally was dried apricots.  And it becomes a juggling act to maintain balance so the intestinal system does not get overly aggravated because when that happens, as it does to Mr. Reiner, you can lay for hours out on the floor in pain and
semi-conscious until someone, somehow finds you and gets help.  Mr. Reiner has been through a multitude
of surgeries for this condition; at times he has been hospitalized for months as doctors try to navigate how
to stem the inflammatory processes that give rise to Crohn's disease.  This can mean cleaning out your system which means nothing by mouth, and by the way, that includes water.  It can often come to the point of being fed through a tube with a substance that is a far cry from what we all know and love as "real food". 

Obviously, when you are the chief cook and food purchaser in the family, this can be a problem.  It can also be a problem if you have to stick with a bland, macrobiotic diet while watching your kids and significant other partake of ymmy stuff like lasagna and pastrami sandwiches.  And the people who live with you are affected as well.  They want to know when you will be able to eat normally again.  They want to know when you will be physically well enough to run the household again.  You become aware of all that they are eating and they become aware of all that you are not eating and doing.  It takes patience.  It takes time.  It takes understanding.  People and their families do not just adjust to life with this type of disease overnight.  In the end what one realizes if you happen to have an autoimmune disorder is that while there is not a "cure", what you will have is times of "stability or dormancy" when the disease is not keeping you from your life and the enjoyment of it.  This is not a condition to be cured, but rather managed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Going Multiple Rounds With The Literati

Well, I started querying for a memoir back in February 2011.  It has been an uphill battle ever since.  And I'm a former English teacher for crying out loud!  I'm used to picky behavior and perfectionism, but attempting to get my memoir published has me going multiple rounds in the ring with the literati, let me tell you.  My first query was sent to a top-notch agent who passed on my manuscript via email in all of two minutes!  How does that happen? I can't evaluate a student's one page essay in two minutes?  Needless to say, I just think maybe she didn't want to be bothered or maybe the subject matter was too unusual for her.  Next came the literary agent who I queried via snail mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope.  She sent back a business card in my envelope letting me know she was passing on my manuscript.  Really?!  I showed it to my husband and he said I quote "That's just insensitive, unprofessional, and tacky".  I've gotten many passes on my manuscript from literary agents who are not taking on new clients because their selective, my work doesn't suit their list, or worse, the literary economy is in the tank.  At this point I can walk into a Barnes & Noble, go the memoir section, and look at memoir titles and tell you who represented the author and what agency sold the book.  This is an insane process.  I probably would be better off just working with an editor who truly loves memoir,
forgetting about finding a literary agent, and having my lawyer look over my contract. 

I've taken all the right steps.  I finished the manuscript, wrote the proposal, wrote the query letter, and researched agent after agent.  I read books on querying, writing book proposals, writing a one to two page synopsis, and I am still at a dead stop.  It's like traffic on I-85 in Georgia the Wednesday before Thanksgiving:  just sit and wait and wait and wait.  The news isn't all bad.  I had one agent look at a partial of my manuscript, tell me she disliked the journal format and that I had no platform; however, if I changed both of those she would be willing to take another look.  So I joined Linked In and of course I started this blog.  I refuse to join Facebook because I think it's juvenile; so fifth grade all over again.  Please, I don't have time.  I still have a partial of my manuscript out with one agent and the full manuscript out with another, but nothing to write home and cheer about thus far in the battle.  Excuse me while I vent folks.  I'll write more later.  Presently, I've got to take off the gloves and get back in the ring for another round.with the literati.  Crank up the AD/DC "Back In Black".

Friday, September 30, 2011

Same Kind Of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

First let me start by saying the movie version of the book The Help was phenomenol.  I highly recommend seeing the movie if you have not already.  Stunning performances by Emma Stone and Viola Davis.

Since life has been getting interesting on the literary representation front, it took me a while to read my latest memoir entitled Same Kind Of Different As Me.  This memoir is written by two gentlemen from seemingly opposite ends of the earth.  Ron and his wife Debbie are a quite wealthy couple living in the Dallas, Texas area.  The wife decides they should participate in outreach programs so they volunteer at a local mission where they meet a man named Denver.  Denver has a long and varied history.  Initially, he comes off as quite standoffish, but you can understand why after reading that he grew up on a plantation and he and his family were slaves to the plantation's owner.  They picked cotton.  So did my grandmother.  It ain't easy work and there's not a lot of pay for the task.  Denver loses a succession of family members.  He finally jumps a train from Louisiana to Texas which is when he meets the Hall couple at the mission.

The Halls befriend Denver slowly but surely.  They invite him to their home, take him out to lunch, invite him to a church retreat, and they begin to win his trust.  He has a lot to teach them about the difficulties in life and overcoming crisis.  Unfortunately, Ron Hall's wife is diagnosed with cancer and continually undergoes treatments for it that do not work; Denver seems to know that Mrs. Hall will pass on and it is his responsibility to take up her torch in helping the downtrodden.  She believed in him when no one else did or would.  He helps Ron Hall bury his wife and build a family cemetery on their vacation ranch.  He becomes family to Mr. Hall and his children.  Ron Hall and Denver Hall even travel back to Louisiana to visit Denver's family home and some relatives.  A new mission is dedicated in remembrance of Mrs. Hall and we all learn that there for the grace of God, we could have all been born into Denver's way of life and suffered as he has.  I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: These Things Hidden

I haven't been keeping up regularly this month with my blog posts mainly due to attempting to query as many literary agents as possible in hopes of publication for my own memoir.  As always some days are better than others when it comes to responses when querying various agents.  Recently I did sit down with a fiction novel entitled These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf.  When I was perusing recent memoir releases on Amazon this novel came up as a suggestion and it did not disappoint.  The story revolves around three families and how their lives become intertwined after one major event.  First you have Allison and Brynne, sisters who live under constant scrutiny from their parents and both sisters are complete opposites.  It's only when Allison decides to get involved with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks that the snowball is set in motion.  She winds up serving five years and then being released to live in a halfway house and try to reconnect with her sister.

Then you have the small town couple Claire and Jonathan who have become foster parents upon not being able to have kids of their own.  When they have to give back a foster child to a mother who proves to the state that she can curtail her demons that they find themselves once again longing for a child.  The child comes in the form of a baby left at the doorstep of the local fire department.  That baby becomes their adopted son when no one else claims him.

Finally you have Charm and Gus who are not father and daughter, but could be if Charm's mother had stayed with Gus and not left him for the next good thing.  Charm decides to remain with Gus who treats her like a daughter and cuts ties with her mother.  Her brother Christopher also lives with them.  Gus has lung cancer and begins to require full-time nursing care which comes in the form of hospice.  Christoper has taken off abruptly after being confronted with his past.  Charm and Gus are left to figure out what to do with the loose ends of Christopher's situation. 

This novel did not disappoint.  I was riveted by the relationship of the two sisters and the unreasonably high expectations their parents have.  The childless couple finally gets their dream child only to once again face losing a child only this time not because he/she goes back to a birth parent.  Finally, Charm learns to stand up to her overbearing, profanity spewing mother and lives her life on her own terms once she loses Gus, the only fatherly figure she has ever known.  She can go forward with her life knowing that her bravery and good decision-making skills meant the difference between a messed up or healthy childhood for one young boy who just landed in her world one day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: The Help

How 60 some literary agents turned this book down prior to finding one who really loved it is totally beyond me.  It also proves just how subjective the world of publishing is.  This book chronicles the lives of African American maids in Mississippi during the 1960s along with the white women for whom and with whom they work.  First, there is the maid Aibileen who works for a woman who seemingly has no time or interest in her kids.  In fact, the kids are more likely early on to think of the maid as their mom.  Aibileen constantly worries about use of the in house bathroom at The Leefolts and making sure all the silver is present and accounted for whenever it is used.  Eventually, The Leefolts build a bathroom in the garage that is stictly for their maid and not to be used by any white person least of all the children.  I was struck by the love and adoration Aibileen had for the Leefolts children and how in her own way, she was trying to teach them to be more compassionate and openminded.

Then we meet the maid Minnie who is the most independent spirited of all the maids.  She does not suffer fools let me say that first and foremost.  Minnie works for an elderly woman and is known for her cooking abilities.  Unfortunately, she has a spectacular encounter with the elderly woman's daughter and loses her job.  She then lands a position working for Cecilia Foote who lives twenty minutes away and is shunned by all the other women because they think she is not from quality stock.  Mrs. Cecilia has a beautiful home, but has no clue how to cook and cannot build friendships in the area in order to socialize more.  The funniest portions of this book is Minnie attempting to teach Cecelia how to cook.  Ms. Cecilia is most accomodating of any of the white employers and  I think it is because she experiences the wrath of the white women's league almost as much as Minnie. 

Finally, there is Skeeter who grew up having a maid that she looked upon not only as a caretaker but also as a friend.  Unfortunately, while she's away at college, her mother fires this longtime maid and refuses to discuss the circumstances with Skeeter.  Skeeter speaks with Aibileen about the loss of Abilieen's son who was attempting to write about what it is like as a black man to work for a white man.  Skeeter then decides to secretly write a book about the same concept, but from the maids point of view.  This involves a lot of secret meetings at Aibileen's home.  Skeeter is the one white gal who sees the massive condescending attitudes displayed by her white friends toward the African American maids.  She even becomes shunned by her white friends who recognize her stance on equality and then eventually dismiss her from the women's league. 

This is a fabulous first book by Kathryn Stockett.  I am hoping she continues to write about each of these characters and what happens over the course of their lives in subsequent books.  I am looking forward to the moview version of this book coming out in August and I relish the fact that this author has had so much success after being turned down many times by literary agents before finally finding someone who truly appreciates and saw the value in her writing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Waiting: The True Confessions of a waitress

This book was an interesting look inside the life of a waitress who has almost twenty years experience working in the hospitality field.  She first decided to waitress as a means of socializing by working at a restaurant her parents operating each summer at a mountain resort.  She later works at a restaurant in and around Yosemite where she learns what it is like to be a prep person.  Later she works at fine dining establishments, chain restaurants, and a nightclub.  Though she leaves the field for a period of time to try another career endeavor, she eventually returns to waiting as it suits her lifestyle better.  I have always believed you can learn something from just about anybody regardless of the station in life or their career field and this book was no exception.

I have never been a waitress, but according to the author, it is a transient field in which to work.  You never know just how long you may work with the same group of people.  Additionally, there is a hierarchy in every restaurant starting with the dishwashers, busboys, prep staff, wait staff, chefs, and restaurant management.  You never want to be in a bad relationship with the hostess of a restaurant as he/she could assign you to a bad section of the restaurant or seat the worst customers in your section.  Also, who knew that one of the worst days of the year to waitress was Mother's Day due to the coming together of disgruntled family memebers.  The best day of the year to be a waitress is New Year's Eve because people are in a festive mood and tip well.  The down side of the business includes lack of health insurance and the dependence upon tips as your primary source of income.  I think what attracts people to this field is the sense of adventure each time they enter the restaurant as they never know who they will meet or how their shift will transpire.  Also, it is an opportunity for flexible working hours.  The author touches on some of the stereotypes patrons associate with waiting as a career; specifically, that it is for people who are doing something temporary until they can get the education or opportunity to pursue "real" work.  Patrons also tend to presume that waitstaff are not the most intelligent people, but since I am aware that there are many varying types of intellligence I have to disagree with the author on this point.  I think a waiter/waitress has to be a people-person, highly social, and have quite a good amount of emotional intelligence in order to read and understand patrons and their needs.  I have also liked the line "Hi, I'm Teresa your waitress and I'll be taking care of you this afternoon".  It feels like someone will be nurturing/protecting you and to me that is a really good thing because if more people looked out for the interests of others as much as their own then this would most likely lead to a more caring, considerate, and compassionate society.  Every field of career endeavor is after all what you make it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Well folks, this memoir was recommeded by a sales associate at my local Barnes & Noble.  It is titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  It has taken me a while to read it since the paperback version is 437 pages.  This has been the most challenging memoir I have read recently.  It is about a young man and his siblings who interestingly live in an affluent suberb of Chicago.  There father is a lawyer who is also an alcoholic and smoker.  He can become violent when under the influence of alcohol especially toward his children.  He dies suddenly while out in the driveway getting ready to go to work one day.  Then, the mother develops stomach cancer and suffers through ongoing treatments.  It is left to the two middle children, Dave and Beth, to be at home and care for their mother as well as their young seven year old brother.  Eventually, the mother dies and interestingly, the bodies of both parents are donated to medical schools.  The siblings have a memorial service for the mother and then sell most everything within the homeplace.  They leave and go to California for a new start as their oldest brother lives there. 

After spending a summer vacationing, the two middle children move to Berkeley where the sister returns to college and Dave and the youngest sibling Toph rent a home in Berkeley.  They reside there and try to function in as normal a fashion as is possible with two siblings functioning as parents for a young seven year old sibling.  Dave, the middle brother, has the most reponsibility for Toph in that Toph lives with him and he is reponsible for Toph's schooling, insurance, having a place to live, food to eat, and ensuring that Toph does not fall victim to depression over the recent deaths of the mother and father.  Youth can be hard enough without the challenges of both parents dying; however, Dave becomes almost a magnet for chaos.  He is harassed on a beach one evening by teenagers who he thinks have stolen his wallet, he tries to make a magazine startup fly without a real staff or comfortable office quarters, he has a coworker who falls from a collapsed deck and lives in a coma, he has a friend who cannot help but continue to fall victim to depression and alchol as well as tranquilizers, and another coworker who dies without warning from an infection.  All the chaos and tragic events lead him to become extremely paranoid.

Dave finally returns to his hometown in the suberbs of Chicago for a wedding and discovers the family living in the house in which he used to live and he hunts down the remains of both his parents which were supposed to be cremated and returned to he and his sister, but were not.  His sister Beth had failed to inform him that she was offered the remains, but did not want to deal with them.  While he is visiting the funeral home that helped during his mother's death, the remains of his mother are located and he scatters them along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The magazine startup eventually folds and he and Toph decide to leave Caifornia as most of their friend are moving back East.  In the end, it is strange to see how much all of this tragedy has aged and matured both Dave and Toph, but you grow up fast when you are alone in the world, lose your parents, and must fend for yourself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: The Cracker Queen

For the week of Easter 2011 I decided to read a southern writer from Georgia.  I selected The Cracker QueenA Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life by Lauretta Hannon.  The first important note is that Mrs. Hannon considers herself the anti=southern belle which after reading this book I take to mean she is independent, open-minded, purposeful, and not afraid of too much of anything.  After growing up in the south with a mom who had a drinking problem and was once institutionalized and a father that had a complete family before he met her mother, Mrs. Hannon had it quite rough all throughout her childhood.  Now down south you will come across and be entertained by some truly rare characters.  For instance, in Mrs. Hannon's life there was the goat man who basically was a nomad with a herd of goats, but he lived simply and was happy all the same.  Then there is her mom's sister who evidently sees and feels events before they happen.  At one point Mrs. Hannon and her mom live in a motel with a war veteran who sits by the pool and looks for helicopters believing he is still very much "in the war zone".  I think Mrs. Hannon is most impressed by her father's relatives she visits once each year in the summer who appear educated and poised, particularly her Aunt Martha.  Her time spent working in Savannah actually frightened me the most due to all the gang activity which I must say probably does exist; although, I have never witnessed it on my vacations there.

Mrs. Hannon eventually makes it through college and out on her own with several postions at various colleges in Savannah and in metro Atlanta.  Although she dislikes the commute from Atlanta to the suberbs and eventually quits her job and moves elsewhere, I have enjoyed my time out here in the suburbs of Atlanta and regularly journey into the city.  It is nice to live in the country yet have access to big city amenities.  I think the main theme of this book comes toward the final chapters in which Mrs. Hannon talks about what it takes to be "A Cracker Queen" which in my mind constitutes a non-nonsense, independent-minded, and adventurous southern woman.  Now personally, I could never identify myself as a cracker queen simply because where I grew up in North Carolina "cracker" in reference to a white person was a derogatory term.  I do agree with the concept of strong-willed, take no prisoners, live purposely, and be gracious attitude by which Mrs. Hannon abides.  I think she speaks for a great many strong, southern women and demonstrates a great change that has taken place among the stereotypical southern belle.  If you like vivacious, spirited, southern writers then this is the perfect memoir for you. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review: Girl Meets God

In this week's memoir read, I glimpsed the recollections of author Lauren Winner's journey from a childhood and early college experiences as a devout Jewish follower to a later conversion to Episcopalian.  She opens with the understanding that her Jewish lineage comes from her father (who is nonpracticing) and her mother is a lapsed
Baptist.  Once her parents divorce, her mother promises her father that she will raise Lauren in the Jewish faith.  She discusses her early experiences of building a Jewish library at her childhood home in Virginia and even conveys her astonishment of discovering that because her Jewish lineage comes from her father and not her mother, she must actually "convert" to Judaism because only the mother's religious lineage is recognized.  She does intense study of the Jewish faith and is followed closely by three rabbis who eventually question her and then observe her "conversion" via water to Judaism.    Once she enters the later years of college, she decides that she wishes for a more personal relationship with God which she appears to discover via the Christian faith in the form of an Episcopal church in New York.  Following two years studying in England, she is baptized and confirmed as a Christian.

The interesting parts of this memoir for me were the descriptions and explanations behind many of both the Jewish and Christian religions.  I did not grow up knowing any Jewish children in rural North Carolina.  Nor did I know any Episcopalians until I began working as a teacher.  It is astonishing how much the author is ostracized from her Jewish peers due to her conversion to Christianity.  She feels as if she has lost an entire family as many of her peers seem to excommunicate her.  She still struggles with the complexities of each faith.  For example, she has a problem with the manner in which Easter plays depict the Jewish people persecuting Jesus; she relates well that it is not the Jewish people that take out Jesus, but the weight of our sins.  She also clearly relates that both faiths have a commonality in Messiah; one faith believes he has come and the other faith is waiting for his return.  Further, there is the need for atonement in the Jewish faith via Yom Kippur while in her Christian faith she atones via her own prayer life and through confession.

From my perspective as a Methodist, I keep wanting to advise her to join the Unitarian faith which is comprised of many people from a host of religious backgrounds.  She has such a struggle to determine where her true religious intentions lie, with Judaism or Christianity.  And I have seen many dual religious affiliated households where one partner is of one faith and the other partner is of a radically different faith where they appear to find solace with the Unitarians.  And as most Unitarian ministers will tell you, whenever there is a convergence of ministers, rabbis, priests, etc. the host generally will turn to the Unitarian minister to pray over the meeting, exchange, or program.  To me, Unitarian Universalism would be the excellent compromise for a person like the author who has a deep love of both religions, but as I understand from many other religious folks, sometimes Unitarian Universalism is not formal or traditional enough to meet their religious expectations.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: Breast Cancer Memoir

This week I spent my non-querying hours reading the memoir entitled Eating Pomegranates:  A Memoir Of Mothers, Daughters, And The BRCA Gene by Sarah Gabriel.  Undoubtedly, this is the most intense and vivid breast cancer memoir I have ever read.  Mrs. Gabriel does not sugarcoat the process from diagnosis, treatment, and recovery and I appreciated that kind of take on a subject like breast cancer as my own mom has suffered from it as well.  This particular memoir is written from both a personal patient experience and a historical perspective so the reader is learning not only about Mrs. Gabriel's experiences as a BRCA1 breast cancer survivor, but also quite a few historical elements about the discovery and treatment of breast cancer from the 16th, 17th, and 18the centuries. 

The book begins with the knowledge that the author has a family history of female cancers including her inheritance of the BRCA1 gene from her mother's side of the family.  The author lost her mother to ovarian cancer while she was away at Oxford.  Her mother was only 42 years of age at the time and it was a very hush-hush affair.  The author's father was left with five children to raise and he firmly believed in coping via a stiff upper lip and no disclosure of mourning.  The father begins living with his second wife just ten weeks after the death of Mrs. Gabriel's mother.  Subsequently, Mrs. Gabriel learns another cousin has died of breast cancer on her mother's side of the family.  She actually discovers the lump in her breast before the doctor or xray does.  She brings it to the attention of her doctor and immediately she winds up having an ultrasound done where it is discovered Mrs. Gabriel has six tumors.  Following a biopsy we learn that three of the tumors are malignant, but none of the six tumors have reached the lymph nodes.

Then there is the process of whether she should have just one breast removed or both and in what manner should she have them removed.  Does she wish to have breast reconstruction after about a year?  Mrs. Gabriel does extremely well in communicating her fear of passing this genetic inheritance on to her own daughters and the anxiety with which her family is riddled while she undergoes surgery and then six rounds of chemotherapy.  Her young daughters fully realize something is wrong with their mother and that it is not good.  Mrs. Gabriel seeks the counsel of someone to figure out how to tell her daughters what is about to happen to her and beautifully describes the concept of cancer to them. 

The author has great fear of dying and leaving her daughters without a mother.  Her husband already has his hands full trying to handle the home, school, work, and medical appointments with his wife.  They hire a nanny, but the nanny never takes the time with the children that a mother would.  There is a great rift between the author and her father who appears to be such a fickle man; at once not wishing to bring up any mention of her mother for twenty years and then also keeping the author's children while she has surgery.  There is a realistic portrayal in this memoir about the grossness of chemotherapy.  Interestingly, Mrs. Gabriel is constantly spoken to by other mothers and acquaintances as she walks her daughters to school, but most of these same people are frightened of her reality; of the very real mortality she is facing.  They subsequently keep telling her to "put one foot in front of the other" and "stay positive".  You never see these individuals really every truly reaching out to help Mrs. Gabriel or her family which is quite sad.

The reader also is invited into the lives of a network of cancer survivors in a support group setting.  Personally, I think this is where Mrs. Gabriel feels least alone because these cancer victims relate to her state of being physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Some of them are worse off than she and others are at an earlier stage in their treatment process for cancer than the author currently is.  By the conclusion, Mrs. Gabriel finally has a long discussion about her mother's death with her father and she realizes that even though her daughters have suffered tremendously during this anxiety filled time, they are stronger people for having been through this along with their mother.  The only really true thing we have to hold on to when mortality comes calling in the form of cancer is the love we have for those closest to us.  The people who will be there come what may which is all too often our immediate family members.  The love we have for them and the love they have for us is what keeps us going in such a dastardly time; it's what makes life worth living. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

OCD Memoir

This past week I concluded reading the memoir Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher which chronicles her bouts with obsessive compulsive disorder from around the age of ten through age thirty.  The compulsion she has begins with shredding napkins underneath the dinner table.  It then becomes picking up sharp objects on the way to school or when out to walk her dog because she believes if she does not then people will have car accidents and die because she left those objects behind.  Her father dies when she is around twelve years of age and she believes whe is responsible in some way because she was having evil thoughts about the cousins she was staying with at the time she learned of his death.  To amend for all the people she believes she has fictionally killed or caused harm she prayers incessantly and she even counts the number of times she prays.  When ambulances go by she begins saying a particular prayer so many times in hopes that the victim will not come to an untimely demise.  Her obsessive-compulsive behavior continues through college; however, it is suspended somewhat when she begins the medication called Anafranil.  She likes to befriend people who are accepting of her condition and tends to fall in love with men who have serious health issues of their own.  For example, Ben has a history of not eating, bulemia, and anorexia.

This main character has a complex relationship with her mother who she continually prays for and who has lost not only her first husband, but her second husband as well.  In my mind, the mother appears to suffer from a hoarding obsession and also has elements of obsessive compulsive illness in that she continually makes lists.  Everything comes crashing down when the main character's mother becomes ill.  At that point, Abby leaves a treatment program for anorexia, comes off medication, and witnesses her mother's demise. Throughout this time, she continues with prayers and inflicting pain upon herself as she seems to believe that she is at fault in many ways for her mother's illness.   In the end, she is married to a man who is accepting of her condition and has a rock solid character.  She becomes pregnant and once agains goes off her medications which now include Paxil and Wellbutrin.  She is able to reduce some of her compulsions and obsessiveness, but not entirely which is what worried me about the ending to the book.

As an individual who once suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder myself from age 18 until age 25, this book brought back some familiar territory only my obsessions were constantly going over my bank balances, tax forms, and also praying.  I'm beginning to wornder if OCD is found more frequently among religious folks in the population.  My worry was that by age 25 as I exited an abusive relationship, my OCD essentially fell by the wayside and I have had no further problems althought I still take medication regularly.  My curiosity is did the author of this memoir ever truly recover from obsessive-compulsive behavior and will her own child also be prone to developing the disorder as well.  That's probably a whole separate book.  This book was a gread read and I would recommend it highly.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You Are The Guru

Today I finished the memoir Are You My Guru? by Wendy Shanker.  This book was at times both hysterical and heartbreaking.  The author has just completed writing her first book about a dramatic weight loss and accepting her body.  She is also working as a produced at The Oxygen channel when she starts having serious health problems and discovers she has an autoimmune disease called Wegener's Granulamatosis.  Basically, when you have an autoimmune disease your body cells have decided to rage a war on an organ or organs within your own body.  This is what happens in this case.  Wegener's affects the ears, sinuses, throat, and lungs.  She is immediately placed on steroids and later chemo drugs taken both orally and intravenously.

Then essentially all hell breaks loose.  She not only is fatigued, sick to her stomach, experiences headache, and then weight gain occurs due to the steroids she takes.  This gal tries all forms of potential cures.  She does the traditional with medications and lab tests; she tries a detox program, ayurvedic retreats, meditation, acupuncture, and thoughout this process keeps up with the happenings of Madonna because she is a major fan.  She becomes frustrated because by itself none of the potential cures is working.  And she even tries submitting prayers to a Rebbe (Jewish messiah) at midnight by tossing her prayer paper into his gravesite.  Finally, her liver starts to give out and she realizes that she has to be her own guru.  It's not about necessarily finding a cure for chronic disease; it's about appreciating the days you feel well and doing what you think best to take of yourself on the horrible days.  It's about finding a happy medium.  Also, she discovers that there is no one guru (medically or spiritually) that can heal her.  She knows her body best and she chooses what to take from traditional Western medicine and Eastern medicine to help define a new normal or a new frame of health for herself.

I was engaged with this book from the beginning as I also have an autoimmune disorder and know what it is like to deal with beaucoup doctors and many who feel they are medical gods.  No matter what the statistics say or the success of various medications, each person is different.  What works to keep my autoimmune disease in check will not necessarily work for someone my age across the United States who has the very same chronic illness.  The point is no one wins, least of all you if you just throw up your hands and cry.  You are the expert on your body and how you feel; you take that knowledge and the specialists' knowledge and work together to find a peaceful state of living and coping with chronic illness.

Obviously, I highly recommend this memoir especially for people coping with rare chronic illnesses and anyone also trying to navigate the minefield that is currently the U.S. healthcare system.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Update and Review

First, I received a reply from a literary agent that was a "pass" on my manuscript, but it
was because she no longer represented the memoir genre.  She did say she felt that my
manuscript and memoir would eventually find the right agent; just keep pressing the "send" key.  

I finished reading the memoir Confessions Of A Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale which I have to say was a real scream.  It's about a woman and her family who move from New Jersey to rural Virginia to live on a farm.  Only this lady used to be an editor at a major magazine and was drawing a six figure salary.  Her husband is the one who has the hankering to move south and live off the land.  She gives up the city life and the big salary to live in a renovated farm house on 500 acres of land.  

Susan gets a rude awakening the first month when she and her family have to live with her brother-in-law and his wife until renovations are complete on the farm house.  This proves taxing because it drags on and on; plus, her sons are having a field day doing their own kind
of renovations to their uncle's house including using the dining room curtains to build tents.  Basically, Susan chronicles how much she feels like a fish out of water.  Upon her first social meeting with women of the Virginia area, she discovers that to "ride" is not to ride a subway, but ride a horse which all children in this rural area seem to do as a rite of passage.  She further misses her Starbucks on the corner and her ability to walk and go shopping.  The closest store she has is a Tractor Supply which her husband loves; however, she would rather not be caught dead in a pair of bib overalls.  

At first I was a bit annoyed with this memoir probably because I have lived in the south all my life and run across many northern folk who move here and then complain about life in the south and what they miss about the north.  As my grandfather used to say, Interstate 85 runs both ways, we'll be more than happy for you to pack your bags and head right back up 85 North.  Susan does write about her experiences in a humorous manner; I laughed out loud quite a few times as she discovers the joys of life on a farm.  By the end of the memoir, I think Susan discovers she can do rural life and actually just might a tad enjoy it.  There are numerous numerical references in each chapter to additional information written in microscopic print at the bottom of each page.  This proves distracting to me as a reader, and it is not actually necessary to read those notations to enjoy the memoir.  I look forward to Mrs. McCorkindale's next book and hope she at least finds it in her heart to try a Lilly Pulitzer or two in May and maybe even attend a horse race or two; southern life does have its treasures too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Headache And A Half

Yesterday I finished the memoir entitled Chocolate & Vicodin:  My Quest For Relief From The Headache That Wouldn't Go Away by Jennette Fulda.  This book chronicled one woman's efforts to rid herself of the headache from hell that started one day and then became an ongoing chronic condition.  She tries everything under the sun to rid herself of the chronic pain and additionally discover the cause of the headache.  This included the usual headache medications, neurology visits and tests, acupuncture, Botox, chiropractic assistance, massage, and finally, she crossed state lines to visit a chronic pain clinic in another state in order to find relief.  Eventually, she does find some relief and at the same time I think she realizes that she may be contributing to her own problem due to staying in a work environment in which there are ongoing rounds of layoffs.  Once she starts to have some relief from the headaches, she is able to freely enjoy her life once again, including, saving six months of living expenses and preparing to open her on company as a web designer.  As a person who readily deals with many areas of the medical and health industry due to my own medical ailments, I could readily sympathize with her frustrations regarding the varying levels of care extended by doctors and the red tape involved with health insurance. 

The other interesting facet to this story is the main character has recently lost over 200 pounds and chronicled her weight loss efforts via a previous memoir.  At several points in the headache memoir, she finds relief in enjoying junk food once again, but then witnesses the repercussions via the increasing numbers on the scale.  Hence, the chocolate and vicodin in the title.  Once she regains some control of the frequency and extent of the chronic pain from the headache, she is able to take back control of her life and once again begin to enjoy exercising and socializing.  I thought this was a very true-to-life and humorous memoir recommended for anyone who has ever suffered from a chronic ailment and had to spend vast amounts of time and money in the U.S. healthcare system. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Intriguing Memoir

I just finished reading the memoir She's Not There:  A Life in Two Genders by Jenny Boylan.  The uniqueness of this memoir is neverending.  It chronicles the life of one person who is born as Jim Boylan, has a revelation in his teens that his male body does not match his female spirit, and then finally by age 40, he completely transitions to become Jenny Boylan.  For the most part I think transgender people have a much toughter experience than this memoir describes.  Jenny gets support from his immediate family (wife & sons), his colleagues at the college where he teaches, his band members, and his mother.  The only scary experiences he really relates is the difficulty telling people, the initial discomfort of his closest friend, and being stalked one evening as Jenny leaves a bar where the band was playing until one in the morning.  Even the stalking part turns out okay in that Jenny is able to get away from the harassing person and then subsequently lose the stalker while driving home.

Most transgender people I've read about experience extreme discomfort in social situations, have been ridiculed and even attacked by others as well as shunned by their immediate family members.  I was expecting this memoir to display more of that kind of experience; however, I felt Jenny Boylan had an extremely reliable support network that most transgender individuals totally lack.  Jenny's sister decides not to have anything to do with him after the transition, but he still has his mom's support.  I've read about people who totally lose any kind of relationship with their parents after this kind of event.  The most surprising portion of the book to me is how well Jim's boys accept the change.  To me, they are the real heroes of the book because they are so accepting of a parent that they have known as both male and female.  Adults could learn a lot just from the openminded nature of the two boys in this unique family.  

I would recommend this memoir, but also I would like to see a memoir that demonstrates the more frequent and harsh realities that most transgender folks experience.  Also, I don't think that families of the transgendered are always as accepting and forthright as Ms. Boylan's appeared to be; I think many families dealing with a transgender family member have serious arguments and struggle before they ever reach the kind of cooperative, supportive roles that they maybe once used to enjoy before transgenderism entered their lives. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recommended Memoir

I spent my weekend reading the memoir Weekends at Bellevue by Dr. Julie Holland.  This memoir chronicled the nine years that Dr. Holland spent serving as the weekend chief psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital.  The cases that arrived at Bellevue's ER included those people arrested by New York police, persons who were the reason for 911 calls, the homeless population, drug addicts, and patients that just showed up to find some kind of help for themselves.  Dr. Holland and her weekend staff are mainly responsible for evaluating each
patient on the basis of psychiatric type of illness and severity.  Many patients that arrive are unable to participate in a doctor/nurse/patient verbal interview due to the amount of drugs in their system, the overindulgence of alcohol, or the decisive need for restraint due to the combative nature of the patient.  She sees it all.  It did not come as a surprise that any practicing professional under this type of duress would also need cognitive-behavioral therapy themselves. Dr. Holland sees an independent, private psychiatrist in order to process what she is witnessing as well as how she is conducting herself as a doctor.  It honestly made me think about the stress most teachers are under, and how schools could use an in-house psychiatrist not necessarily for the students, but for the teachers.

The main contemplative issue Dr. Holland struggles with is the fact that she only sees her patients for a short amount of time; therefore, she does not have the rewards of witnessing a psychiatric patient's recovery process.  The other struggle for Dr. Holland is the power she has to make the decision of whether a patient is truely emotionally impaired and genuinely needs as well as warrants longer term care within the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital.  There are times when psychiatric ER patients truly push her buttons and she finds herself becoming combative with them or at least not doing as much as she felt she could have to help as opposed to hinder the patient's progress toward a more balanced emotional life.  These are the issues she processes with the help of her own therapist.  She also accounts for the many dedicated souls who work in the psychiatric care business.  These are some of the most gifted and patient people she encounters while at other times, she comes across doctors who want to pull rank with her.  She also has a psych tech who refuses to take notes on patients already in-house at Bellevue, and the tech goes so far as to call their superior or boss and inquire as to whether he has to follow Dr. Holland's orders.  This same psych tech is later terminated, but he obtains another position at a hospital and begins to stalk Dr. Holland via bogus pages while she is on weekend duty.  Talk about scary.

Overall, I loved this memoir for its authentic nature.  Since I once worked as a psych tech it was easy for me to relate to some of the experiences Dr. Holland was describing.   Many of her patients also reminded me of students that I have taught in the past and made me wonder if the behavioral problems I had with them might have been due to psychiatric conditions.  It also gave me a profound respect for ER doctors having to make quick diagnostic decisions based on presenting symptoms and a doctor/patient interview.  She oftentimes does not have background information on the patients that arrive in the Bellevue ER nor is she able to discuss a patient's case with a family member or significant other who knows them well.  This memoir definitely keeps the reader's attention and is quite moving in terms of what Dr. Holland discovers about not only her patients, but herself.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Writing Workshop Process

I have always found my best ideas for books come from the freewriting I do in my daily journal.  I now write weekly about what I am learning concerning the memoir genre and the publishing process for new authors.  Eventually, once I decided to turn a year long journal into a book, I retyped and edited each journal entry which evolved into about a six month process.  Since I know the importance of good leads, I always endeavor to ensure that my first sentence and paragraph grip the reader because if not then what would be the point of them continuing to read the rest of my work?  And I have noticed that most literary agents are looking for that "gotcha" lead in the first few pages because most generally ask for the first five to ten pages when you submit a manuscript.  If you do not grab your reader from the get-go then it becomes difficult to maintain interest and subsequently sell the book.  I like to think that a really incredible memoir has to keep me as a reader engaged all the way through the book without me putting it down and forgetting where I was in the story when I return to the book.  Gifted writers can achieve this formidable feat, but so can authors with tremendously unique and moving experiences.  It does take practice so the more I write and the more I read other works, I gain the ability to tweak my craft and also determine where other works fall short as well as where my own writing needs improvement.

Occasionally I have come across a really great book, but I can't get past the author's use of foul language or levels of violence.  Sorry, I'm not a Stephen King fan.  You will not find me waiting for the next vampire book or movie either.  I think real life is dramatic enough without having to invent chaos, crisis, and calamity.  Additionally, I like to learn from others' experiences and the best methodology to achieve this that I've seen in the writing world is the memoir genre.  People have some tremendously interesting relatives; some have survived when the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against them; and many memoir writers have made some tremendously bad decisions with horrific consequences or worse, been the victims of others' bad choices.  It just never fails to surprise me as a reader.

Finally, this week I finished the memoir Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg.  Wow, talk about growing up with a seriously bipolar parent and how that kind of parenting shapes you as both child and adult.  There were moments in the book where I cringed for the author as I was reading about her mother's behavior.   Never let it be said that experience does not shape reality because this book would definitely prove that wrong.  This weekend I will be looking for my next memoir selection as I visit my local Barnes & Noble in an effort to make sure they do not file Chapter 11 as Borders has been forced to do.  In the meantime, enjoy a good book or carve out a period of time for yourself to enjoy a good memoir over the weekend.  I will be.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Perplexing Literary Agents

The quest for representation by a literary agent has been most perplexing I can assure you.  They request a query letter initially and most tend to judge whether they wish to represent you as a writer based on this writing sample...two pages maximum, that's it.  Granted, as a former teacher I could tell a lot about a student's style and writing abilities from a mere two pages, but I am not sure it is enough to evaluate a writer's potential.  There are quite a few agents who request sample chapters or the first ten to twenty-five pages of a manuscript.  I find that to be a more adequate sample of writing in which to judge the merits of a potential new author.  As a  writer you do have to generally send those sample pages in the body of the email and not as an attachment.  This proved tricky for me as I am more familiar with sending requested material via attachment.  Not to fear, my husband the tech wizard saved the day by showing me how to move portions of my manuscript and place it in the body of an email.  I could see how this would  prove frustrating to someone who wishes to write, but is not tech savy.

One of the most interesting facets I have come across in my querying attempts is the online submission form on websites for literary agencies.  I was confounded by the thought of having to condense my two page query letter into a mere 500 characters on an online form.  It took me a while to edit my query letter to meet this request, but it proved manageable.  What I find really interesting is that there are literary agencies and literary agents who have no website or do not accept email queries.  At the same time, most agents wish for writers to have a platform and a very real presence on the internet.  It goes back to the saying of "Do as I say, not as I do".  So if I cannot find an agency website or an agent refuses email queries, I automatically eliminate them as potential literary agents.  I have to find an agent that practices what he/she preaches.  

Additionally, I query three agents a week.  Initially, I was going to query five agents a week, but it's emotionally draining to have that many non-responses or rejections in a seven day period so I scaled the number back to three.  There are weeks when I just take a break from the whole endeavor so I can gain a fresh perspective or renew my enthusiasm for the literary world and replenish my confidence as a writer.  Some literary agents will get back to you regarding a query in five minutes and others request four to six weeks or more.  I keep a list of all the literary agents I query in a notebook along with the date I sent a cover letter or query to them.  I also keep a copy of their responses to my query so hopefully one day I can look back upon this trying and overwhelming period and have a great laugh while encouraging other newbie authors.  The quest continues.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Blogging Adventure Begins

This is my first effort to blog.  I am not a tech wizard and never claimed to be (that would be my husband) so it has been entertaining to create and design this blog entirely by myself.  I decided to begin blogging because I love the memoir genre and I am also in the midst of attempting to get a memoir of my own published.  Prepare to hear hysterical screaming should this fortunate event ever occur.  Keep Hope Alive has become my motto.   I am writing this blog under my intended pen name Grace Sutherlin.

Presently I am reading the memoir Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg.  Additionally, I am currently studying literary agents and their respective book interests so I can determine which agent might potentially be a proper match for me as an author and my memoir.  When I am not reading and researching, I am working on polishing my memoir concerning a year of adversity and lessons chronicled between 2009 and 2010.  That was the year my life became insanely overwhelming as my dad's lymphoma returned, my mother finished radiation for breast cancer, my husband started his own consulting business, and my sibling went through innumerable challenges and changes.  I have my own personal health challenges consisting of Uveitic glaucoma, Meniere's disease, and an autoimmune disorder known as Cogan's Syndrome.  In my memoir I discuss daily living with each of these rare disorders.

Presently, I'm just thrilled to the dickens that I have finally, at long last, established this blog and may hopefully get it designed and established without suffering a major panic attack! A proud accomplishment when it comes to me and technology since I normally am technically challenged and suffer hissy fits when it comes to understanding design templates, software code, or why my computer crashes.  

In future posts I hope to reflect on the memoir I am currently reading, the art of writing, the quest to get published, how and why I journal, and whatever else intrigues me. I look forward to this experience and look forward to future postings.