A Conference, a Website, and a Book

20150311_125506Whew, it’s been a long time since I posted here about what’s going on with me. Here it is March and I’m just finally feeling recovered from the holidays. I always think I’m not making enough progress in this endeavor of writing and advocacy–until I put down what I’ve been up to.

The next big thing coming up on my schedule is the American Adoption Congress Conference, where I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with my adoptee sisters from Lost Daughters on March 28. Ten of us will talk about diverse narratives within the collective adoptee voice. Early-bird registration rates have been extended, so there’s still time to make your plans to meet us in Boston. We’ll also have copies of our anthology on hand and our signing pens ready!

At the end of January, I launched a new website I’ve been working on for some time, called Adoptee Reading Resource. My goal with the site is twofold: to catalog every book written by an adoptee that I can identify and to also list adoption books authored by non-adoptees that adoptees recommend. In other words, it’s an adoptee-centric book site, to enable adoptees–and everyone else–to discover adoptee-centric books. (Yes, I can work in the word “adoptee” a few more times if you’d like.) Now that it’s live, I’m excited to see how it grows.

Continue reading “A Conference, a Website, and a Book”

What’s Going On–September 2014

RoS_Cover_2014How did it get to be September? Moving to a new state sucks so much energy out of you, you lose track of the months. I’m happy to say that my family and I are finally beginning to feel settled in our new home. It’s time to turn my attention back to my creative goals.

In the midst of all the craziness, I managed to edit and publish a poetry anthology on behalf of the Georgia Poetry Society. Don’t ask me how I did it. It’s all a blur. But I’m very proud of how it turned out and thrilled to share the cover here–the first cover I’ve designed myself. I’m very grateful to artist Karen Burnette Garner for submitting to GPS’s first cover contest. Her gorgeous painting is a song.

In other news, I’ve contributed an epistolary piece to an upcoming anthology titled Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth. This is a unique project that will enable young adult readers to correspond directly with the authors after the book is published. I’m looking forward to interacting with these young adoptees and foster children in a mentoring role. More information about this project will be coming in the next few months.

Now that my kids are back in school, I’m settling into a writing routine once again. The memoir I’ve had floating around for several years has finally bubbled to the top of the to-do list. Anyone who’s ever thought about writing a book probably knows this dance I’ve been doing–advancing toward the manuscript and then pushing away from it, over and over again. This is a dance that can absorb a life if you let it. I’m at last determined to finish the thing, once and for all. My goal is to have a complete draft by the end of the year, and I’ve been progressing well over the past several weeks. Hold me to this, everyone!

I have other goals in mind as well. But that’s talk for another day…




Being Naked on the Page vs. Tearing off the Clothes of Loved Ones

In a previous post, I proclaimed, “Good writers allow themselves to be seen naked on the page.” I do believe that the best writers are able to express their vulnerability in what they write and that this vulnerability is what makes good writing so good, because it opens a window through which a reader can see parts of himself.

However, I also think that being “naked” on the page does not necessarily mean a writer has to reveal every little detail about a real-life situation. Even memoirists have the right to keep some things private. And I think that we who write about real life especially need to be careful to protect the privacy of those we write about.

It’s one thing to tell all about our own interior life. Our thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc. belong to no one else but ourselves. We should write about these things. We must, if we want our writing to resonate. But when it comes to describing events that have taken place in our lives that include things other people have said or done, we need to consider that even though, as writers, we’ve chosen to live in the public eye to a certain degree, others in our lives have not made this conscious choice, nor should they be forced to by the words we publish. There’s certainly no way to avoid mentioning the important people in our lives. They will appear in our work. But I think we can be naked on the page ourselves without having to rip off the clothes of our friends and family. Continue reading “Being Naked on the Page vs. Tearing off the Clothes of Loved Ones”

Recent Read: Three Books by Jennifer Lauck

This is the category formerly known as Book a Week. While I still aim to read one book each week, I’m unable to keep up with writing about every one. In keeping with my modus operandi, I’ll post about books when I get the urge and not a moment sooner.

Over the summer I read three books by Jennifer Lauck that each deal in some way with adoption: Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found, Still Waters, and Found: A Memoir. I became aware of Lauck’s writing when I joined a group for adoption writers that she moderates on She Writes. What a wonderful discovery! As I’ve mentioned before, reading adoption literature is an educational component of writing my own thesis collection of adoption-related poems and short stories.

Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found

This book is amazing, not only for its content but for the way it’s written. I was fascinated by Lauck’s voice and style all the way through.

Blackbird is written from Lauck’s perspective as a child growing up in shockingly abnormal circumstances. This is a story that’s so far outside the normal family paradigm, I held my breath while reading, hoping she would make it to adulthood even though I already knew she had. Deep into the story, we learn along with Jennifer, the little girl, that her parents and brother are not her own, that she is adopted. In a manner that feels true to life, the child narrator does not dwell too long on this revelation, though we see clearly how it affects the remainder of her childhood, both internally, in the way she perceives herself, and externally, in the way she is treated by family members.

Lauck is masterful at telling her story from the perspective of the child who lived it. Even though she was looking back through the eyes of her adult self and her memories were necessarily influenced by her adult knowledge and emotional development, I was very impressed by how she held on to the child narrator’s perspective all the way through the book. She uses plain, simple, straight forward wording, and her tone is immediate. The text grabbed me and never let go.

Certain phrases and descriptions are repeated throughout the text to remind the reader of how things had been vs. how they are now. For instance, she slowly reveals the entire Snow White story (Grimms’ version) during the course of her narrative as a metaphor for her own life–a twisted fairy-tale foretelling.

I don’t want to go into too many details about events described in the book (better to read Lauck’s own words), but I will say that she revealed just enough that I knew exactly what was happening and could feel her anguish, but not so much that I ever felt she went overboard. She did a great job of pulling back just as I was about to become overwhelmed. This woman has mad skills.

Still Waters

After I read Still Waters, I noticed that Lauck has reviewed her own books on Goodreads. I’m not sure I agree with that, but what she says about this book is certainly interesting. She claims that she was rushed to write it by her publisher, who wanted a sequel to Blackbird, and that the publisher wanted a perfect-family ending that wasn’t reflective of the real state of her marriage at the time. In other words, this wasn’t the sequel she really wanted to write. I was a little disappointed in finding her disclaimer, because after being so impressed with Blackbird, I wanted to be able to trust this author. On the other hand, her explanation did jibe with my own feeling about Still Waters. Of course, we can never be sure how true to life each and every detail of a memoir is, so we have to take what’s given at face value. What I noticed is that Still Waters is not as tightly constructed as Blackbird. I found it mildly disappointing that everything gets wrapped up so neatly in the end.

A large portion of this book deals with the death of Lauck’s brother, and even that section seems too pat, too clean, though her writing is still very good at the sentence and paragraph level. For me, this book lacked the emotional intensity of Blackbird, though it was satisfying that it begins at the exact moment Blackbird ends. I was anxious to find out what happened to the not-quite-grown Jennifer from Blackbird, so in that sense, Still Waters did its job.

I think Lauck’s search for answers about her brother is the heart and soul of this book, though.

Found: A Memoir

Lauck describes this book as the real sequel to Blackbird, though I’m not sure I agree. The title is apropos since this is both the story of Lauck’s reunion with her birth family and the story of Lauck’s coming to terms with her true self. But this is the story of a very adult Jennifer. Without Still Waters, I suspect there would have been too great a gap between the young girl perspective at the end of Blackbird and the all-grown-up perspective of Found for this reader to jump without assistance. I do appreciate that Lauck gives us a note before the book begins to explain this shift in perspective from the child to the adult.

I also appreciate that Lauck incorporates a ton of information on adoptees throughout this book, though sometimes I felt she should have been clearer about her sources. She metions that she’s done a lot of reading on adoption and that she’s been in therapy with Nancy Verrier, yet I still had the uncomfortable feeling at times that she might be stating as fact theories that are still under investigation.

For this adoptee, Found was so fascinating I read it in one sitting. I still love Lauck’s writing style, and I was anxious to learn from her reunion experience. I have to say though that I was a little dissatisfied with the book overall. A great number of pages are devoted to summarizing events that were described in detail in Blackbird and Still Waters, which created drag for this reader. Also, I had the feeling Lauck might be holding back about her own thoughts and emotions regarding her reunion, possibly because it was still in its early stages, which is understandable. I wonder if she should have let it all settle in a while longer before writing about it. (This is a question I’ve asked myself.) But, she can always write another book down the road about the long term ramifications of reunion, which I’d buy without hesitation.

I’m very happy to have found Jennifer Lauck’s work and I’m looking forward to reading more from her. I’m even considering taking one of her memoir writing courses when I get the time.

Book a Week: I Was the Jukebox, by Sandra Beasley

OK, so it’s been about a month rather than a week since my last Book a Week post. What can I say, it’s summer.

Sandra Beasley first came to my attention because of the awesome title of her blog, Chicks Dig Poetry. Isn’t that great? I discovered her right around the time her memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life, was due to be released. One of the things I love about Beasley is that she refuses to limit herself to writing in only one genre or format. Besides poetry, memoir, and blogs, she also pens essays and magazine articles. And she’s astute about how to use social media to promote herself without coming off as pushy or conceited. And she’s generous to other writers. Sandra Beasley, you are my career-building idol. (Except for all the travelling, that is. I’m much more the homebody.)

What I love most about the poems in I Was the Jukebox is their tightness, their form. I’m a great admirer of a well-crafted poem, one that doesn’t simply spring forth from inspiration but is pulled apart and put back together again, maybe many times over, before the poet calls it done. After technique, I like Beasley’s imagery. Like this, from the poem “Plenty:” “News crews from Florida showed children / paddling helplessly among the oranges, / looking for a place to stand.”

I’d like my own poems to be as tight as Beasley’s, though sometimes her cleverness kept me at a distance. But maybe that’s just my looking for other’s hearts on their sleeves, where I tend to wear mine. I recognize a fair amount of angst in my own poetry. It will be interesting to see if that changes as my poetic skills develop.