Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Welcome Judy L. Mandel and a Guest Post: Writing Through the Tears and the Laughs

Welcome Judy L. Mandel, author of   Replacement Child – a memoir (Seal Press/Perseus).  I'm so glad to introduce Judy's very touching memoir and to share her very insightful thoughts on writing such a personal story.  This is a must read post if you've ever considered writing a memoir or simply, if you are a fan of Judy's and/or reading memoirs. 

About the book 

Judy Mandel is the replacement child for her sister who was killed in a tragic accident. It would be years before she would understand how the event, that happened before she was born, shaped her life.

A plane crashes into a family’s home. A two-year-old girl is critically burned and a mother is forced to make an impossible choice. The death of a child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart.

In a great act of hope, the parents give birth to a "replacement child," born to heal wounds and provide a "salve for the burns." The child unwittingly plays her role throughout childhood, riding the deep and hidden currents of the family tragedy.

In this powerful story of love and lies, hope and forgiveness, Judy Mandel discovers the truth that changes her life forever and forces her to confront the complex layers of her relationships with her father, mother, and sister. When she has her own child, her epiphany comes full circle.

Writing Through the Tears and the Laughs

One question that keeps coming up when I talk about my book Replacement Child, is:
“How were you able to continue to write, for the four years it took to write the book, about things that were so sad for you?”

My initial answer to that question is that writing my memoir was a journey that necessarily entailed channeling through some choppy waters. As I navigated through the rapids of my family’s story, I was totally focused on the next whitewater memory that threatened to overthrow my resolve. I didn’t stop for any picnics along the riverbank, but just kept paddling fiercely to stay afloat and moving forward.

Ok, that’s about as far as I can go with that metaphor.

The writing had its ups and downs, both emotionally and creatively. Some of the stories within my memoir are not sad at all to me, and some even made me laugh out loud while I wrote. The chapter that tells about my dog finding a condom after my sister and I threw a big party without my parents’ knowledge was one of those LOL chapters for me. Humor was the glue that held my family together, which I hope I was able to reflect in the book, notwithstanding the undercurrent of tragedy.

Of course there were many memories that sent me soul searching, or led to tears. Some were chapters that had to do with my sister, Linda, when I remembered the instances of cruel reactions to her scars, or when she had to endure yet another surgery. Other tears came when I put myself in my mother’s shoes after losing her seven-year-old daughter, or my father’s as he ran home to find it in flames, his family gone and the nose of a plane where his neighbor’s house used to be. I went into a tailspin that stopped me writing for a while when I began reading about “replacement child syndrome.” That revelation, and my identification with it, changed the focus of my writing and required a revamp of my manuscript.

My parents, who had died the year I began writing, were in my head throughout the writing of this book. Their voices, so clear, kept me going. Even when they argued with me, and I countered, they kept me on track. The honest telling of their story was what they had charged me with many years ago, and I was determined to accomplish it even if the truth may have been surprising, or distasteful to them. 

I was lucky enough to still have my sister Linda to read the manuscript and approve of it before her death, just before it was published. She knew things as the older sister that I did not, and gave me details of her own story that I could not have known otherwise.

For me, it wasn’t a question of how I could write through the tears. It was a question of not being able to stop until the story was fully told, the promise to my parents to write it had been fulfilled, and my journey to find my role in the story finally realized. When I was done, they all stopped talking so loudly, which I missed. But they are still with me, never fully silenced. My mother always did have to have the last word.

About Judy L. Mandel

Judy L. Mandel made her living as a marketing professional for over 20 years before writing her first book, Replacement Child. She grew up in New Jersey, but when she went to college in Connecticut, she knew she had found her home.

Her writing life began as a newspaper reporter. She later worked in public relations and advertising and somehow found herself in corporate communications at various insurance companies. Her memoir grew out of early essays and the promise she made to her family to tell their story.

Judy now balances her business writing for clients with writing fiction, nonfiction and articles. She writes an ongoing blog on PsychologyToday.com.

Thank you, Judy!  
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