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Member Spotlight: Karen DeBonis

author Karen DeBonis and an image of her book Growth

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? In studying the craft of memoir writing, I became immersed in the world of personal stories. I came to see the art form as a powerful tool to break down barriers between individuals and their belief systems. It’s harder to hate a person when you know the life circumstances that made them who they are. I believe the more personal stories we read as a society, the less divided we will feel. This ties into the impetus behind writing my memoir. I believe many readers, women especially, will see themselves in my struggles of motherhood and people-pleasing. When a reader recognizes their own destructive patterns in my words, it will open her eyes to the need to grow. This is another example of memoir being a powerful tool. Finally, a theme in my memoir is my habit of keeping my insecurities and fears to myself. I didn’t realize how private I was until I re-read what I’d written in my own manuscript. But how does a private person share their deepest secrets? Rather than tell my family about several dramatic scenes they’d known nothing about, I let them read the passages. In my experience, people are better “listeners” when they read my words than when they attempt to hear what I say.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I’m not a typical writer in many ways. At 64, essentially retired from my non-writing career, I seldom sweat it when a blank screen stares me down. I just blink and walk away. Sometimes, I only need a small distraction like making a cup of tea before I can return to my laptop and try again. Other times, I need to become engrossed in a different creative activity like gardening or a DIY house project so my mind can subconsciously work out the writing problem. When I return to the screen, I’m ready to crank. Self-bargaining is another strategy. If I can’t bear to write a paragraph today, can I look through my file of essay ideas and add one sentence to three drafts? Can I revise my website? For the love of all that is holy, can I at least organize my desktop writing folders so I waste less time searching for items? Finally, music can soothe my most savage writer’s block. As an introvert, I relish quiet and solitude. When my environment gets too muted though, it dulls my senses, so I play the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. Her lyrics implore me to be brave, to speak up, to “say what you wanna say.” These words speak to the heart of a memoirist, especially one whose people-pleasing nearly destroyed all she held dear.

What is your favorite time to write? Any time my neighbor isn’t running his noisy yard maintenance equipment. If all is quiet on the northeastern front, I’m most productive in the mid-morning or late afternoon.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? I didn’t receive this specific advice, but I wish I had, so I’ll share it with others: “Learn all the rules so you know when to break them.” Please do absorb the lessons on active verbs and filter words and avoiding adjectives and not starting a sentence with “when” and the importance of “show don’t tell.” Then, read your favorite novels or narrative nonfiction books and note how often they break the rules. Set your standards similarly. Choose to break rules sparingly, and when you do, make your infraction so gorgeous and moving, critics will nod their heads and cry, “Damn, this writer knows what she’s doing.”

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I sometimes think technology is my nemesis. (“Damn cyber gods,” I often complain.) Yet the world wide web nets readers and resources for me. As an introvert for whom even virtual engagement can be exhausting, that very connection is intoxicating. My book launch team included virtual friends from twenty US states and four countries. Technology made that possible. Well, and a nod from the cyber gods, I suppose.

Karen DeBonis’s Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived is out now with ‎Apprentice House Press.