Pat wrote about her sister in Fixing Boo Boo: A Story of Traumatic Brain Injury, which won a gold medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards. It’s an inspiring story of one family and the struggles they face when a sibling with a brain injury comes to live with them. Sadly, Pat’s experience resonates with nearly 9,000 families in Florida, who devote their lives to caring for brain-injured loved ones every year.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I was born in Philadelphia, simply because that was the nearest hospital to my father’s farm in New Jersey. When I was a year old, my father and grandfather bought land in south Florida, wanting to farm year-round, so I grew up in the town of Delray Beach, which is now quite the artist’s colony. After two years at Palm Beach Community College, I transferred to Florida State University, where I received my B.S. in Secondary Education, a degree I never used, since I ran off and joined the Air Force.
Most people don’t realize that I cut my teeth, so to speak, on writing poetry which I have been doing pretty much since I could hold a pencil. This came naturally enough since my mother wrote little ditties and sometimes serious poems in a little “write in book” that had blank pages. I will have a collection of mine published by year’s end.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
After my sister passed away in 2012, I was left with notes that every caregiver most likely keeps. These are lists of medications, who you spoke to and when, emails back and forth between my husband and me, and between doctors’ offices and both of us. Then there was the saved information for just about anything that could and probably would eventually have to be dealt with. In cleaning out my computer files, I was going to delete them, but then really started looking through them and thought maybe someone else could benefit from them. I started organizing them into a timeline of sorts and thought I’d write a memoir about my experience with brain injury. My critique group wanted dialogue “to move the story along” and after arguing with them that that would make it fiction, my creative non-fiction book was born.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
The biggest challenge was thinking “Why am I doing this? Boy, this is stupid – no one is going to read this thing.” Well, apparently, there are people who were helped because I get comments at festivals and signings, thanking me for writing something they cannot do and that is to let others know they aren’t alone in their struggle. So basically, my biggest challenge was…me!
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
That would have to be when I received the gold medal at the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards. I thought I would get the bronze, but someone else’s name was announced. I was in shock when the silver medal was announced and it wasn’t me. I looked at a friend at the dinner table with a sort of silent scream because I knew I had the gold. Talk about taking doubts away about writing ability!
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I love all books and – both fiction and nonfiction. I try to read at least 60 books a year and track it on Goodreads. Nonfiction include “technique books” for improving writing skills and then I also read biographies. I am currently reading the biographies of all the presidents in order. Being a Civil War nut, I also like almost anything written on that subject.
Fiction I like to read is more of the Action-Adventure type – think Clive Cussler – and that is what I will want to write when I am finished with the follow-up to Fixing Boo Boo.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
Ummmm…I write most days. I tend to binge read and then binge write. I don’t have any rituals aside from always having a little notebook with me, just in case a thought strikes me.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I have a rose garden I tend to when it isn’t so blazing hot. My husband and I have a boat that we take out in Apalachee Bay for fishing and sometimes snorkeling for scallops, reading (duh), art museums, which sometimes inspires me to draw and paint, something I used to do a lot more of. I used to be OCD about cleaning, but this writing thing has pretty much cured that.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
What I’d do differently – Not waste as much time thinking that what I write isn’t good enough and just write better, using some sort of guideline. While I’m not an outline kind of girl, if I had something more than the timeline in place, it would have helped. Also, I would have studied what to do before the book was published – what marketing works and what doesn’t. Do some advance work like social media marketing, creating a buzz about it and then, what to do after the book was published. I had no idea that I’d be putting myself out there one on one and talking to people. But, I can tell you, having been an insurance agent, I would have to say this is easier and a LOT more fun!
What I’d do the same – I was writing for a specific audience and they are getting the message, but others are also finding out what it was like living with a brain-injured person.
I would also still have a critique group – these people were the reason my manuscript ever got finished. Not only were they expecting me to write, they gave me (mostly) positive criticism about what did and didn’t work.
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her: firstname.lastname@example.org