So meaningful to me

butterfliesYou know, it’s hard to figure out what to share here, and I know self promotion is rampant and I am as tired of it as you are, but sometimes I get emails from people who have found my book, #Replacement Child, and I am so moved I want to tell you all about it. Just this morning, I got this email from a woman in Ireland who found my book referenced online. This kind of email is why I wrote the book, and why I am glad I did.

Hi judy,
I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.
For some reason last night when I lay in bed, I started to get upset about childhood issues. I decided to look up a child that comes after death of a sibling. Wow! One click on google and I realise something at the age of 36! I was a replacement child. I always knew my position in the family in that I came after death of a brother. But now suddenly I have an actual position that is recognised! I felt huge relief is all I can say but also amazement at how I did not realise that’s what I was , a replacement child! Feel a bit stupid too. I ordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I don’t feel so alone now.   I am married with kids but have always felt alone and different. Why am I telling you this?! Why email you?! I don’t know. You are a stranger who knows what I am feeling somewhat and after last night revelation I had to tell someone 🙂! Thank you,
B. in Ireland

I wrote back and asked her if I could share this, and she wrote:

Thanks for your reply. Yes of course you may use my mail for your blog. I actually feel found judy. It’s actually the single most exciting thing I feel to have happened for me. Struggling all my life with guilt of being on this earth in place of my brother. I don’t blame anyone, I always said, it’s just life , no ones fault. But the pain and unworthy feeling all my life has been crushing. Grateful to you and others for being there on Google , thank you from the bottom of my heart. When others verbalise another’s secret pain it is so liberating. Happy beyond words. Excited for a new chapter in life . Bless you X 

My Sister’s Voice

The following is the text of my essay that recently appeared in The Southampton Review. You can order this fantastic literary journal at thesouthamptonreview.com. It looks much prettier in the publication!

My Sister’s Voice

     In the end I only wanted to hear my sister’s voice one more time.

They’d found a cancerous tumor lodged in her airway. I was grateful I had spoken to her on the phone just before they intubated her; the tube down her throat bringing life saving air to her lungs but not allowing her to speak. Linda was in Florida and I in Connecticut, but the fear in her voice cut across the miles. “If I get through this one, I swear I will stop smoking,” she told me in gasps of breath. It was something I had begged her to do for many years. She was never ready to give up “one of my few pleasures.” Now, she was ready and I was afraid it was too late.

I was at a concert with my son when I got the news that she had been intubated and was in intensive care. Bob Dylan was playing at a baseball stadium in a neighboring town. The place was packed with fans who knew all his lyrics, serving up a continuous background chorus to Dylan’s rasping “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Shelter from the Storm”. It was a sweltering summer evening in Connecticut with no wind and stick-to-the skin humidity. The kind of night that demanded cold beer. I had just headed to the concession stand as my cell phone rang. Stopped short on the concrete steps as people pushed past me to get their fries and hot dogs. The noise around me forced me into a corner to hear, covering my exposed ear and pushing the cell phone squarely against the other. Still, the information didn’t seem to make the leap. Some kind of insurmountable chasm from phone to ear to brain.

When Linda’s daughter had called me the day before from Florida, we thought her trouble breathing was a reaction to a new medication. I was not greatly alarmed, thinking this was just another chapter in my sister’s long history of health issues. All my life I had watched in awe as she overcame each one, and I was certain she would come through this one too. My mother had once proclaimed her our “little soldier” and Linda had never forfeited a battle.

Linda was two, and I was not yet born, when a plane crashed into my family’s home. She survived the explosion and resulting fire that killed our older sister, Donna.

Critically burned, Linda was not expected to live. Nuns at the Catholic hospital prayed at her bedside, saying she was very close to God, a notion meant to comfort my parents, but one that only frightened them. My father matched the St. Christopher medal on Linda’s pillow with a Star of David. He told me he was ready to take a miracle from any God who would listen. I believe my sister survived, however, through her sheer force of will.

As a child, I was a witness to Linda enduring surgery after surgery to put her poor body back together. Right after the accident, I knew that doctors had to enable her breathing through the burned and narrowed airway. The same compromised airway that she later fed with smoke and nicotine.

When I was six, I waited at the top of the stairs in our split-level home, wearing a white nurse’s costume, complete with a blue Florence Nightingale cape. I watched my sister’s face, her cheeks wet, as paramedics turned her, in her full body cast, trying to angle her to fit through the narrow front door. She caught my eye and we both smiled, each recognizing the other’s fear, our mutual protective instinct helping us through the moment. That winter I pulled snow off the roof outside her window to build her a snowman, complete with raisin eyes, a carrot tip for a nose, and a sock for a hat. I placed it back on the roof where she could see it from her bed; watch the raisins slip, the carrot finally drop and the sock slosh onto the wet slate as the weather warmed. The melting meant we were growing closer to the time when Linda would be freed from the prison-like cast.

At eighteen, one surgeon offered to repair her facial scars. She would squint as she looked in the mirror, imagining what she could look like—and if we might finally look like sisters. The promise of her new face captivated us both. She dreamed, and I dreamed with her. She might not need two hours each day to put on her makeup, applying the pink and green tints, the heavy foundation, the setting powder. I marveled each time at the transformation. How her Bette Davis eyes were accentuated, and the red-brown scars took a back seat to her ready smile. Linda gave me a sharp hug that day before she left for the hospital.

But it wasn’t to be. The scar tissue was too deep, and the risk of facial paralysis was too great. After that disappointment, she announced that she had had enough reconstruction—the world would have to accept her as she was.

“Take it or leave it, this is me, “ she said, always with a smile.

“Intubated” sounded so careful, like putting her in safekeeping, inserting the breathing tube as they had after the accident when she was two. This time, though, the smoke would win out.

A few days after that Dylan concert, as I sat with her in the hospital, she wrote on a pad to me:         “Did you get all the information you need? Are you okay with what is going to happen?” Still looking out for her little sister, helping me accept her imminent death and understanding what the doctors had told us; the chemo had no effect, there was nothing more to do. I shook my head, first “yes,” then “no.” My words stuck in my throat.

I was just finishing the edits on my memoir. She had helped me with the story by filling in details that only she was privy to, secrets my mother had concealed from me, as well as Linda’s own emotional journey. When I delivered the manuscript to her I told her I would take out anything she disliked. She didn’t change a word. “This is your story,” she told me. Later, I would find the beginnings of her own story on her computer.

We had joked that when the book came out, we would go on Oprah together. I had finally realized that my story, about growing up in the shadow of the sister who died, was also very much about Linda and our childhood together. In the hospital she wrote me a last note, urging me to “push” to publish the book to tell our story.

I feel her pushing me still. And I clearly hear her voice.

Still Here For Me

I haven’t written for quite awhile due to illness, which is such a waste of time! Right now I am still not sure my writing here will be coherent since I am still on pain meds, but it’s better than imagining the next worst thing that could happen–which I am prone to do. Maybe it’s my writerly self. Give your character an obstacle, they say, then try to imagine the very worst thing that could happen to them after that–then even worse. In the last 7 months my imagination couldn’t have held a candle to reality–but now things are better every day. My trip down this particular rabbit hole has pinholes of light that are getting brighter.

Since this blog pertains to my book Replacement Child, and the story of my family, I’ll tell you how the past several months have made me think differently about that story, and especially about my sister Linda. You may or may not know that a good part of my memoir has to do with my sister Linda’s survival of a plane crash and subsequent fire. She had a surgery each year from the time of the crash, at age 2 1/2, until she stopped at 18. “This is it,” she said. “Take me or leave me as I am.” I was the little sister left safely at home when she went to the hospital each year. Left to imagine and wonder what they were doing to my big sister in those great white halls with the funny smells. She always had a smile and, when possible, a hug for me when I went to see her. “Hey Jude!” She would sing out when I came in holding my mother’s hand.

Now that I am on the other side of having four surgeries in the past seven months, on top of two others a couple of years ago, I know what those visits cost her. And what each surgical procedure stole from her young life. My mother must have planned the timing of my visits precisely so that I wasn’t privy to the worst of my sister’s suffering. Strangely, it seemed to me in this last year that I would go through many of the procedures that Linda had endured, to a much lesser degree. She always warned me that she was prone to adhesions, and I may be as well. And that seems to be a major problem for me. Apparently we both have weak veins, necessitating multiple tries to get an IV started or blood drawn. As she did, I had to have a PICC line put in at one point, then a central line for my last bout.  I wished every day that she were still here in this life to talk to about it all, but sadly she is not.

I prayed she would come to me at several pivotal points in my treatments, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t paying attention, as I lay in the OR before surgery, that I felt her fully there with me. I immediately relaxed, my fear tremors abated. It was a calm I hadn’t felt in a very long time.By the time the anesthesiologist said, “Ok, now I’m giving you something to relax you,” I was already there. I closed my eyes and thanked Linda for her reassurance that this would turn out well. I know many people will not believe that my sister was there with me, and that’s fine. But I know she is the only one that could have calmed me that way.

In a way, I feel closer to my sister than I ever was when she was alive, and I am grateful for the deeper understanding and the knowledge that we are still connected.

Are You Waiting for Someone to Die to Write Your #Memoir?

That’s my topic on my guest blog at The Memoir Project.

Thanks to Marion Roach for hosting me!

 

 

Reading and Discussion of my #Memoir #Replacement Child, November 12 at #JCC New Haven

Come join me tomorrow, November 12 at 11 am at the JCC New Haven for a reading and discussion of Replacement Child – a memoir. Hope you can make it!
JCC New Haven event flyer

Are You Struggling with Your #Memoir Structure?

When should you start thinking about the structure of your memoir? Will an outline help? What are some tips to help you organize the memories of your lifetime into a coherent story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the page?

How do you start thinking about the structure of your memoir?

You already have all the information for your memoir, after all it’s your life! Now, it’s a matter of structuring and including the pieces that will best tell your story in a logical way. Otherwise you may have a jumble of wonderful chapters and scenes that are disconnected. It comes down to what to leave in and what to leave out.

What’s the Story?

The big question to ask yourself is—what is your memoir about? It’s not enough to know it’s about your life and your memories. How to connect the stories of your lifetime, which may seem unrelated, in a way that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Essentially, keep them turning the page.

Find Your Own Method

Everyone has their own writing method. Mine was to write a scene from memory that had to do with the larger story of my memoir—the plane crash and aftermath that changed the course of my life. I didn’t write an outline, but I applaud those who do. It may save you a good deal of time if you know the theme of your memoir, where you want to start and where you intend to end.  Even if you change course later on, this will give you a compass. I might have written Replacement Child in less than the four years it took me if I had more of an idea of where I was headed. That said, I’m not sure it was possible in my case. The writing of the book was such a journey of discovery for me.  When I began, for instance, I had not even heard of the term “replacement child” let alone applied it to myself. So, this is a long way around of telling you that it will be a very personal decision how to tackle the writing of your story.

The Virtues of an Outline

I will tell you that if you are hoping to sell your book, an outline is almost essential. Agents and publishers want to see sample chapters and then an outline of the whole book. If you bite the bullet early on and do an outline, you’ll be saving yourself a good deal of angst when you get that request from an interested agent or publisher that they want an outline tomorrow! Been there!

The Three Act Structure

I have heard it said that you can simplify your story into the three-act structure ala Aristotle. This may work for some of you, but I believe it’s a difficult fit for memoir. I won’t belabor the detail of that structure here—you can find many references to it on the web or various books about story structure. Or, you can simplify it further by just thinking about your memoir in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end.  If you know roughly what will be included in those three parts of your memoir, you’ll have a giant head start.

Visual Aids May Help

To show you just what a struggle it was for me to find my own structure for Replacement Child, take a look at the photos I took when I shuffled the index cards describing my chapters and re-arranged them on bulletin boards that lined my hallways.

Piecing it together
Piecing it together

After this attempt, and feeling that I had to have the ENTIRE chapter at my fingertips to find the story structure, I took over my porch with the full hard copy chapters.

reorderOur house turned into a giant book outline for a time while I obsessed about structure. I realize I could have done this on my computer with various software programs, but I had to have it in my hands for some reason. I’m the same way with proofreading my work, always revising in hard copy before I return to my computer.

Upcoming Teleseminar on Structure with NAMW

On October 25th, I will be participating in a teleseminar with the National Association of Memoir Writers focusing on structuring memoir. Find out more at: www.namw.org

I would love to hear about some of your methods of organization as you go about creating your memoir. There may be as many techniques as there are writers!

#Memoir writing, publishing, essays and interviews over the past month

Image@ The Muffin

blog url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
specific url: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2013/04/author-judy-mandel-launches-her-memoir.html

@ Words by Webb
Stop by to find out what Jodi has to say about Replacement Child, a memoir about complicated family dynamics, by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://jodiwebb.com
specific url: http://jodiwebb.com/reviews/replacement-child/

@ CMash Reads
Don’t miss Cheryl’s take on Replacement Child, a memoir about love, loss, and family by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/
specific url: http://cmashlovestoread.com/2013/04/10/guest-author-judy-mandel-showcase-giveaway/

@ Choices
Hear from Madeline about her thoughts on Replacement Child, a memoir of growing up as the replacement child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-huge-welcome-to-author-judy-mandel.html

@ Tiffany Talks Books
Don’t miss Tiffany talking about her thoughts after readingReplacement Child by Judy Mandel. This is a great memoir about family and loss.
blog url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com
specific url: http://tiffanytalksbooks.com/guest-post-replacement-child-by-judy-l-mandel/

@ All Things Audry

Stop by to learn more about Judy Mandel, author of the memoir about family, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://www.allthingsaudry.blogspot.com
specific url: http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/2013/04/welcome-judy-l-mandel-and-guest-post.html


@ Books I Think You Should Read
Liz takes a closer look at Replacement Child by Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://booksithinkyoushouldread.blogspot.com/2013/04/guest-post-judy-mandel-author-of.html

@ Mrs. Mommy Booknerd
Fact or Fiction? That’s the topic today with memoir writer Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child.
blog url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/
specific url: http://mrsmommybooknerd.blogspot.com/2013/04/blog-tour-with-wow-women-on-writing.html

@ Kristine Meldrum Denholm
Kristine interviews Judy Mandel, author of Replacement Child, and asks the fabulous question: How do you sell a self-published book to an agent/traditional publisher?
blog url: http://www.kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/
specific url: http://kristinemeldrumdenholm.com/blog/?p=3077

@ White Elephants
Find out what Chynna has to say about Replacement Child by Judy Mandel a memoir about life, loss, and love from a child born into a family that had suffered the loss of a daughter.
blog url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/
specific url: http://www.seethewhiteelephants.com/2013_05_01_archive.html?m=0

@ National Association of Memoir Writers
Stop by to learn more about a riveting memoir, Replacement Child, and its author Judy Mandel.
blog url: http://www.namw.org/
specific url: http://www.namw.org/2013/05/wow-blog-tour-guest-an-interivew-with-judy-mandel-replacement-child/

@ Memory Writers Network
Enjoy an interview with writer Judy Mandel and discover why she felt the need to write her memoir, Replacement Child.
blog url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/

Specific url: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/turning-tragedy-into-memoir/

 

Thanks to @tiffanytalksbooks and @booksIthinkyoushouldread for hosting my guest blog posts #RCmandel

wildflowers 1My thanks to two blog sites for hosting me this week.

Books I Think You Should Read hosted my blog:

How Writing Replacement Child Changed Me: http://tinyurl.com/dxksg2x

 

Tiffany Talks Books hosted my blog:

Club Replacement Childhttp://tinyurl.com/cfq6vnu

masthead

 

When the Unthinkable Happens

 

sneakersI have known my whole life that the unthinkable can happen at any instant. That planes can fall out of the sky and change your life forever. When friends say, “Oh, THAT will never happen, we don’t need to worry about THAT.” Whatever THAT is at the time, I have to stop myself from pulling out headline after headline that prove the opposite. THAT happens every day. One of those headlines contains the name of my sister.

And, now another tragedy. Innocent lives lost in a senseless act. Reforming a vision of a perfect day of athletes celebrating their accomplishments, of families cheering them on, of children beaming proudly at their parents, parents awed by the strength and determination of their offspring to complete the grueling 26 mile run in Boston. One small boy hugging his father one instant, gone from this earth the next. Unthinkable. And yet.

To many today, this is a shock out of all proportion. To others, a club of sorts of recalcitrant members who have themselves been touched by tragedy, it is all too familiar. They may nod in recognition at the faces of those affronted by the most recent event. The injured, the bereaved, the panic-stricken. “We know,” they say to themselves. “We know what comes next, and our hearts break for you.”

Some of us want to help, but are not sure how. Some of us don’t want to let on how hard we know the next days, months, years might be for those affected. And, some use whatever skills we have to try to bring comfort. Because we also know that understanding can be like a warm blanket, keeping cold reality at bay.

How do we go on in the face of realizing, as I have come to, that anything can happen? Whether you believe in God’s plan that includes these kinds of atrocities, or you question whether he has turned his back, or if he exists at all—there comes a time when you have to grapple with random acts of evil, accident or nature.

We can turn our attention to all the good people who rushed to help the injured. All those runners, running again to donate blood even after a day of physical and emotional exhaustion. The doctors and nurses who saved lives and are, even now, treating the injured.  We can be thankful, as the news reports stress, that the bombs were not bigger and didn’t take out whole city blocks.

Ultimately, we can also realize that each day we are given is a gift. Each hug of our child, or any child, is to be cherished; each kiss from our beloved to be savored. Every day that we find peace, that our loved ones are safe and well, is a good day.

Prayers for the families who have lost loved ones, for all those injured in Boston.

 

(This post also appears on my Psychology Today blog.)

 

 

Recent updates for Replacement Child – a memoir

First, many thanks to Madeline Sharples, and her Choices blog for hosting me today for a guest post. I hope you’ll check it out!

You may also want to take a look at my ongoing blog on Psychology Today.

And, a couple of articles in Book Marketing Magazine. Check it out on iTunes–it’s a great new pub!

And here are some pics from some recent book happenings::IMG_0800IMG_0799IMG_0798IWWG

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