Don't forget to join me today as I discuss DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP with DuEwa Frazier on her radio show, Rhymes, Views & News Talk Radio ! The show begins at 1:00 pm EST. Click here on the link to take you there! See you on the radio! If you would like to buy a copy of DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP, go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books A Million.
By the time I turned 16 and started looking for my birth mother, I was angry. I was suffering from “mommy abandonment issues” and I wanted to find her so I could punish her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth. I’m thankful I did not find her then. Emotionally, I was not ready for a relationship to begin between the two of us and I’m afraid, had I found her, things would have quickly fallen apart between us. So I say with gratitude, my journey to find my mother was a slow process with a ton of road blocks in the way. I started my search before there were computers like we know them, so my process involved writing letters and making phone calls. On my adoption papers it said her name was Gwendolyn English and I was born in Montgomery, AL. That’s all I had to go on. For some reason, since I loved English so much as a subject, I just knew she and I were destined to meet one day. In my heart, I knew it was just a matter of time until I found her.
But all of my searching seemed to lead towards more and more dead ends, and there were so many monumental events that took place that I wanted her to be there to witness. My high school graduation. My marriage. My graduation from college. My son’s birth. My divorce. My stroke. Yet, it was almost another twenty years after I began my search at age 16 before I found the woman on my birth certificate – Gwendolyn English. I remember walking to her door, anxious, even though she said she couldn’t wait for me to arrive. When she hugged me for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had come home. My adopted family, especially my daddy, meant everything to me; I was thankful that I grew up a member of the Jackson family. But she was always the missing component. And then I found out that I had siblings, and having grown up an only child, I felt blessed beyond measure. Not to mention all of the fabulous aunts, uncles and cousins I inherited. My life was moving toward completeness.
A few months ago, a television show called “I’m Having Their Baby” aired, and it became a source of conversation for the two of us. The show was all about women who made the decision to give up their babies for adoption. One day my birth mom said, while we were discussing the show, “I wish I could talk to those young women and tell them how difficult it is to give up a baby.” Shortly after she said those words, I approached her about doing this interview with me. I think she was a little hesitant at first, but eventually, she and I made the decision to share part of our story. So, here it is. My interview with the woman who birthed me into this world and set me free for just a little while – Gwendolyn English Pendleton.
Hi, Mom. Tell me about that first year after the adoption.
I didn't handle the first year very well. In fact, I was nearly a basket case. I was determined to keep the adoption a secret, leaving me with no one to talk to, and at the time, I didn’t have God in my life, so I truly felt lost and alone.
When I was little, I used to pretend you were a Queen in a far-away kingdom, and one day, you would come and find me. What are some of the dreams you had about me and my whereabouts?
In my dreams of you, you were always an adult. I never saw you as a child. And when I did dream of you, I didn’t find you in the dream, you always found me. You were at the front door of the house. I never saw myself taking you from your adopted family. It would have been the wrong thing to do. My dream was seeing my daughter as a young lady, knocking at my front door. And, it almost happened just that way.
You mentioned that after you put me up for adoption, you went back looking for me. What was it like for you when you found out I had been adopted?
It was sad and then again, it was almost a relief that you had been adopted early and you weren’t stuck in a dreary orphanage, like the ones in the movies about abandoned children. You were such a beautiful baby. I did have some mixed feelings when I found out you had been adopted though. I was happy for you, but I was also disappointed because my deep desire was that I might reclaim you. However, I realized that getting you back would have been a difficult task since I had already signed away my rights. Another part of me decided that my baby was in a good home and I should allow her to grow up there. This decision finally gave me a level of peace.
In what ways did the adoption affect your relationship with my sister and brothers?
It made a difference when they were older and their father and I divorced. Having given you up, I knew I would not allow another child to get away from me. It made me want to hold on to them more. The adoption, I believe, caused me to be a stronger mom, and a more determined mom who would fight to keep my other children and not let anyone take them out of my arms.
Describe what your first thoughts were on that day I called you for the first time.
That day you called, I knew who you were before you even said your name, a name that I chose for you – Angela Denise. I knew your voice. It was our voice. And when you said your name I thought, God did just what he said he would. He brought my baby home!! It was a miraculous moment. It was glorious. It was awesome.
Because my adoption was a secret to most members of our family, how did you deal with my sudden re-appearance into your lives?
I called the family together and told them the truth. They were so wonderful and so understanding. I'll never forget it. I thank God for all my babies and my other family members.
You and I have spent the last 13 years trying to get to know each other. What has been some of the challenges? And what has been some of the great moments?
We need to be seeing each other more – that’s the challenge. The great moments were the very first time I saw you as a young lady and every time I've seen you since. The challenge has only been the physical distance between us.
If you could give advice to mothers contemplating adoption, what advice would you give to them for surviving those years apart from their child?
To be honest, I have no advice to give. Every woman must decide for herself what the right decision is for her. Fortunately, I came through by the grace of God. I know that God allows us to go through things for spiritual and mental maturity, even when we bring these things on ourselves. Would I make that decision to give up my baby again? I don't know. I'm not that person anymore. She was only 19 and very confused. I don’t believe I would do it now, knowing what I know. How do I know I wouldn’t give up my daughter – give up you? Because I'm stronger and wiser, and I know that I wouldn't have to go through it alone.
Mom, thank you for doing this interview with me. We’ve been through a lot together, both when we were apart and now that we are in each others' lives again. Let me say what I have said before, I have no regrets. I was loved. I was nurtured. I made a difference in the life of my parents who really wanted me. You did the right thing.
If you would like more information about adoption, visit the National Council for Adoption website by clicking here. If you would like to read more blog posts by me, visit my blog, “Writing in the Deep” by clicking here. Thank you for visiting my blog. Don't be a stranger.
A note from Angela: I grew up a church girl. It was expected where I came from in Ariton, Alabama. Unless you had a fever of 110 and were too delirious to walk and talk, you were going to be sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, and in the case of my church, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, some Sunday afternoons too. Not to mention Wednesday nights and those long revival meetings during the summer. Oh, I whined about having to sit and listen to our minister go on and on about God and family and community. But really, I didn’t mind, and to be honest, so many of those heartfelt sermons preached by upstanding men and women still live within me today. And anyway, for all of us “church girls and boys,” our church was an extension of home. Going to church every Sunday was like having a weekly family reunion. I got to catch up with my classmates. I got to see my aunts and uncles and cousins. And I got to visit with the Godly women and men who taught me to love everyone – from the person sitting next to me in the pew, to that “wayward sinner” who was one kind word away from becoming a “saint.” I will confess. I have never found what I experienced at my home church all those years ago. And I’ve looked. But I have found a friend who shares similar memories of her time when she too was a “church girl” in a little rural town in Southern Illinois. So, read her story. Even if you’ve never spent a second in church, you would be hard pressed not to feel a sense of longing for the rural American experience she shares in her essay below. Thank you, Lauren, for taking us back to a time that for many of us was as close to idyllic as it gets.
The Education of Lauren: One Hymn at a Time
by Lauren Bishop-Weidner
I remember sitting in “our” pew in the Rosiclare United Methodist Church (third from the front on the right), pretending to be good. I’d fidget in my seat, swing my legs one at a time, then both at once, count ceiling tiles, look out the stained glass windows, annoy my siblings. My sister Joanie and I would play complicated games, hiding our mischief under innocent expressions. We’d write coded notes and stifle our giggles, or see how many words we could make out of the sermon title. I’ve heard that some of God’s little pirates managed to smuggle in books to read, but I never got away with it. My book would be routinely confiscated, and I would have to listen—again—to the tedious lecture about respectful attention in church. One preacher’s son, older than I, openly read comic books, but this did not impact my parents’ judgment—if he jumped off a cliff, would I follow? Eventually, I accepted defeat and turned to the two books that were allowed, the Bible and the hymnal. The hymnal was easier.
My first forays into the Methodist songbook involved the faded brown ones, worn on the edges, copyright 1935, with old timey hymns like “Revive Us Again,” “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “Power in the Blood”—hymns with simple tunes, simple harmonies, simple messages. I would thumb through and look for the ones I knew. Sometimes I’d discover to my great surprise that I’d been singing them wrong. “Rescue the parachute, care for the lifeboat” was really “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying;” and “Par, par, par in the blood” had nothing to do with golf. Who knew?
Sometime in the mid-1960s, we got new hymnals, bright red, with a lot more stuff in them—new creeds, new rituals, new songs. The “first lines” index in the red hymnal didn’t always include the more common names of hymns, plus I didn’t see those foot-stompin’ melodies I recognized. Another index showed who wrote what, and the sheer number of hymns next to certain names gave a lesson in miniature about poetry, history, music, and the connections among them. Certain names stood out: Fanny J. Crosby, William Bradbury, Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts. Sunday by Sunday I grew up immersed in the liturgy and hymnody of the United Methodist Church.
The hymns breathed new life into old Bible stories, cautioned against sin, celebrated salvation, preached social action. The poetry mesmerized me long before my vocabulary caught up, with lofty, ethereal words you don’t hear every day: “mighty fortress;” “healing stream;” “Calvary’s mountain;” “visions of rapture;” “balm in Gilead;” “sore distressed.” Truly, “words with heavenly comfort fraught.” There were exhortations to repent, to give, to share, to help, “touched by the lodestone of thy love.”
The poetic words settled into my bones, and thanks to a comprehensive music program in our school, the music did, too. Through the efforts of both classroom teachers and music teachers, I was able to hear the songs in my head as I whiled away the boring sermon time. As my knowledge grew, I put the harmonies in, and despite the fact that I’m not all that musical, I understood how the hymns sounded.
By the time I was into harmony-reading, I was also into folk music. The protest era marched across the sound waves accompanied by a motley mix of rockers and troubadours—Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary; the Doors, the Stones, Janis Joplin; Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, the Staples. In church, I checked out their inspiration, filed under “Folk Hymns.” There weren’t many, and they were all lumped together: spirituals, Native American songs, immigrant tunes, mountain melodies. Printed in the middle of the bleakest, bloodiest years of the Civil Rights struggle and the protest against the Vietnam War, the red hymnal—and the United Methodist Church—took a quiet stand for justice. Granted, the arrangements of the folk tunes tended to look a lot like those of the Wesley or Watts hymns. Still, their inclusion represented a deliberate statement.
The newest update to the United Methodist Hymnal (1989) reflects assiduous attention to retaining what never changes and revising what does. In some hymns, gender-neutral language replaces the now-archaic use of “mankind” and masculine pronouns, changing words and rhythms in ways I’m not sure I like. But I do like the philosophy that says sexist language is wrong. The spirituals and work songs from the African-American tradition are more authentic and harder to sing. There are languages and folksongs from around the globe, giving the casual hymnal reader a multicultural education steeped in the church’s devotion to inclusiveness, a philosophy surely shared by the Jesus who dined with both Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, the Jesus who spoke kindly to loose women and sharply to church leaders.
You really can learn a lot from reading the hymnal.
Thank you for stopping by and reading Lauren's phenomenal essay. Click here to read more essays by Lauren. Please feel free to leave a comment below for her OR share your own "rural America" life experience. Click here to FOLLOW me on Facebook which will give you easy access to blog posts like Lauren's and information about my upcoming book, Drinking From A Bitter Cup. Again, thank you for visiting my blog. Don't be a stranger.
It has been nine years since my daddy died. Nine years! I can’t believe it sometimes. There are mornings when I will wake up and reach for the phone to call him and then realize – he’s gone. Oh, I know all of the things we tell ourselves. ”He’s not really gone. He still lives in you.” I hear the words, but the bottom line is, sometimes I just want a hug from him. Sometimes I want to hear his wisdom. Sometimes I don’t want to be the one who has to have the answers. I actually remember when Daddy was my age. I was a little girl. He seemed so much older and wiser than I feel at this same age. He wasn’t without fault, but when it came to my questions, he seemed to know everything. Daddy, why is the sky blue? Daddy, what does God’s voice sound like? Daddy, how far is it to the end of the universe?
Of course, he didn’t have answers to questions like those, but he had a way of explaining things to my young childish mind that I was satisfied to not wonder anymore about things that were not easily explained – at least for a time. I fear that I do not have that same ability he had. Sometimes, my sons will turn to me for wisdom and insight and all I want to do is ask my daddy to tell me what to say to them. Sometimes I think about my future grandchildren and I wonder, what life lessons can I impart to them to help them become stronger – braver? I don’t know. And that scares me at times. I want to be their rock. I want to be their guiding hand. I pray that when that day comes, instinctively, I will know what to do and say.
A few days ago I spoke to my Aunt Lenora on the phone, and she said she was the last living member of her side of the Jackson family. I heard within her voice the fear and the loneliness of being the last elder standing in a long line of amazing people. As the matriarch of our family, we expect Aunt Lenora to always be brave and fearless. We expect her to always be knowledgeable about every question we might have. Yet, we forget. Like the rest of us, she was a little girl once who looked up to the heroes and she-roes in our family. She ran around outside and played with her siblings and cousins. She sat in front of her mother, the woman we lovingly called Big Mama, and asked her all of the questions little girls ask their mamas. She ran behind her daddy, Daddy Red, and hung on to his every word. Now, she must be the elder of our family. I know at times it must be overwhelming to be the one everyone comes to for answers. My conversation with her allowed me to have a greater understanding of what it really means to be an elder. Elders are wise, but they are also vulnerable, just like the rest of us.
We sometimes take for granted that when we reach some magical age we will be wise and ready to face anything life might send our way. But the older I get, the more I realize, we are all still just babes. Our hair might show white strands of wisdom, but when it is all said and done, no matter what our ages, we still crave someone to be just a little wiser than we are. We want those loving arms of someone older to wrap us up in an embrace that says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.” We want those things when we are seven and we want it when we are seventy-five.
I miss those days when my daddy was able to solve all of my problems with a reassuring look and a full-on loving hug. I pray my children and grandchildren will feel that safety I always felt in my daddy’s embrace. I hope that, in me, they will find some of the same traits I found in the the elders who helped to raise me to be the woman I have become.
When DuEwa Frazier asked me to be the editor for her collection of poems, Goddess Under the Bridge, I was overwhelmed (look at her extensive biography below!), then honored, then floored by the sheer genius of her poetic voice. DuEwa is not a poet to be taken lightly. She can be heard reading her poems at some of the most prestigious events in the country, and then, you just as easily might find her teaching form and structure to a small group of young burgeoning poets who are striving to find their voices. She does it all, but most important, DuEwa is a kind-hearted spirit who I am happy to consider a friend. Please join me in welcoming DuEwa to my blog.
DuEwa Frazier is an award nominated poet, educator, literacy advocate and author of the forthcoming young adult novel, Deanne in the Middle. DuEwa is the author of Goddess Under the Bridge (2013), Ten Marbles and a Bag to Put Them In: Poems for Children (2010), Stardust Tracks on a Road (2005), and Shedding Light From My Journeys (2002). She is the editor and publisher of the NAACP Image Award nominated (in Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry) anthology, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees (July 2006), featuring the work of fifty internationally/nationally known women poets.
Check the Rhyme also received nominations from Writers Digest Publishing Award and African American Literary Award Show. She founded Lit Noire Publishing in 2002 and has produced numerous literary and performance events featuring poets, novelists and musicians across New York City and in other locations.
DuEwa has been called a “gifted and conscious performing poet.” Her poetry has been published in Essence Magazine, Reverie Journal, Kweli Journal, Tidal Basin Review, Poetry In Performance, Drumvoices Revue, Black Arts Quarterly, X Magazine and other publications. In 2005 she featured in the documentary film “Rhyme and Reason.” DuEwa has also been featured on WE TV’s “Cinematherapy,” Oxygen Network, CBS’ “The Good Wife,” Manhattan Cable Network, and in the short sci-fi film “Passengers of 7D.”
She has been a featured poet, author and speaker at arts venues, conferences, schools and colleges. DuEwa has been profiled in numerous literary outlets and as a journalist, her editorials, arts profiles and interviews have been featured in Mosaic Literary Magazine, Aalbc.com, Allhiphop.com, DaveyD.com, Mahogany Butterfly Online, EzineArticles and others.
As an educator she has taught English and Theater Arts for secondary students, facilitated parent and professional development workshops, written education articles and created writing curriculum for public schools and non-profit organizations. DuEwa earned the B.A. degree in English at Hampton University, the M.Ed. degree in Curriculum and Teaching at Fordham University and the M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing at The New School. She is a 2013 candidate for the Ed.M. degree in Educational Leadership at Columbia University in New York City.
When did you first start writing? Do you remember your first poem or story, and if so, what was it about?
I first started keeping a journal when I was around nine years old. I kept notes about my life, drawings and maybe the beginnings of what I thought were poems. As a college student at Hampton University, I wrote poems and I joined the student literary society. I was shy then and didn't share my work. I was also a staff writer for our student newspaper. I considered myself a budding writer and I hoped to one day have my writing published after college.
Thematically, what types of poems do you find yourself writing about most?
My recent collection, Goddess Under the Bridge, features poems that pay homage to jazz harpist and organist Alice Coltrane, also Lucille Clifton, Pearl Cleage and Suzan Lori Parks. I write about history and places such as St. Louis where I grew up. I write about the experiences and struggles of others, and sometimes I write after reading something in the news that really bothers me. There is a poem I wrote titled "The Winner," that I ended up feeling was about Whitney Houston, even though I wrote it before she passed.
How do your poems “reveal” themselves to you?
Life and what is happening all around us informs my work. I read poetry, but history, music, and current events also inspire my poems. Conversations inspire my work, also new things that I learn in everyday interactions. My poems come in strings of words that I have to write down and then over time, in revision they are formed or revealed.
Who are some of your poetic influences – those literary giants whose shoulders you stand on?
I'm going to start from the beginning. First, Sonia Sanchez, because my mother played her recordings for me when I was a child and I met her for the first time when I was seven years old at Washington University in St. Louis. I've been influenced by many other writers, not just poets including: Zora Neale Hurston, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, James Baldwin, Khalil Gibran, Rumi, Joy Harjo, J. California Cooper, Flannery O' Connor and others. My poetry and writing is equally influenced by music. Jazz influences such as Alice and John Coltrane and rock/funk influences such as Prince and Sly and the Family Stone have been great inspirations.
Who are some new, up-and-coming poets you think we should be on the lookout for?
I don't know who is "up-and-coming" but there are quite a few poets who have been around for a while and who I admire including: Natasha Trethewey (Poet Laureate), Monica Hand, Truth Thomas and Thomas Sayers Ellis, among others.
You are the author of 4 books of poetry; you’ve edited an anthology…besides all of those wonderful and amazing things, what are some of your other passions?
Education and supporting our youth in their growth and achievement is extremely important to me. I enjoy speaking to groups and facilitating workshops. Music and performing my poetry is also a passion of mine.
Tell us about your recent book of poetry, Goddess Under the Bridge? What motivated you to write that book?
Goddess Under the Bridge features poems that pay homage to legendary and notable women artists and writers. “Goddess Under the Bridge” is a title of one of the poems and the overarching voice or narrator in the work. When we think of the word Goddess, we think of what is spiritual, magical, or other-worldly. Here in the way that I use it, I reveal the theme of the Goddess through the gritty, dark and painful parts of life – what is ugly and often hidden, not necessarily magical. There is a saying: "The devil is in the details." Well, the goddess is in the details, and the dirt too in these poems. The poems tell a story, different locations and images. Some of the poems are from current events; others are from the past and deal with more historical connections. I was motivated to tell a story, but not in the conventional sense. I think readers will have revelation of that fact when they read Goddess Under the Bridge.
I know asking a poet to identify his/her favorite poem is like asking a mother to identify her favorite child; however, I am going to ask the question anyway. Is there one poem you’ve written over the years that makes you say, “Wow. I wrote that.”
I'm going to say that one of my favorite poems is "Sun of My Son" a poem that is featured in my first book of poetry titled Shedding Light From My Journeys. The poem was first published in Essence Magazine in 1999, so it was my very first published poem. (Click here to hear DuEwa read “Sun of My Son.”)
What is next, DuEwa?
I have a few things in the works, but I hope that readers will check out my new book Goddess Under the Bridge which is now available in paperback and the Kindle edition at Amazon.com. Click here to order on Amazon. Visit my website at www.duewaworld.com and connect with me via Twitter @DuEwaWorld.
Thank you DuEwa. It has been a pleasure chatting with you!
If you would like a chance to win a copy of DuEwa's latest book, Goddess Under the Bridge, leave a comment below and you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of this amazing book. The winner will be announced here, so stay tuned. If you want to make sure you get all updates on my blog, please register to receive blog updates by clicking on the box to your right of this entry! Thanks and have a wonderful day.
Although I met many of my birth family nearly 13 years ago, my cousin Tracy and I have only “met” over the telephone, via Facebook, and through email exchanges. Yet, even though we have never had a face-to-face meeting, we have clicked just like cousins who had the good fortune to grow up together, sharing summer vacations filled with silly little secrets and long walks down Alabama dirt-filled roads.
Over time, my cousin, Tracy, has shared her story with me. Let me just say, Tracy’s story is phenomenal – just like her. I asked her would she be willing to share it with others on my blog. I am a firm believer, like Good Morning America’s host, Robin Roberts says, “Our mess can become our message.” Tracy has had to overcome a lot of “mess” over the last few years, but she has never lost hope or faith that her tomorrows will be better than her yesterdays. So, here is my Cousin Tracy’s story. May the readers of her journey be as positively touched and helped by her words as I have been.
Tracy English Butler is 41 years old and the married mother of six children. Her children range in age from 18 to 10 (the ten year olds are twins). Tracy says she never envisioned herself as having such a large family. Instead, she thought she would be a full time career woman. But Tracy is the first to say she has no regrets and loves every part of being the mom to her amazing, beautiful family.
As a child, Tracy grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood with two loving parents, Edward and Jean English. She has one sister, Kelly English Quirolo, and a whole host of loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. Tracy and her husband, Mario, have been married for 19 years, and when asked the secret of their long lasting relationship, Tracy says, “Running our household and raising six children has been a task requiring endurance, love, compromise, and understanding.”
All of their children are in school full-time and about a year and a half ago, Tracy returned to school herself to get a graduate degree in counseling. Tracy was accepted to a challenging program at her Alma mater, Oakland University in Michigan, and was breezing right along carrying a 3.9 grade point average when all of a sudden she was stopped in her tracks by some devastating news.
Here is the rest of Tracy’s story.
Hi, Tracy. Thank you for agreeing to take our private conversations public. I truly believe your story has the ability to change lives. If you don’t mind, will you tell my readers what happened to you nearly two years ago that brought you and all of your carefully laid plans for the future to a temporary, screeching halt?
Well, Angela, I found out that I had a brain tumor. The technical name for it is a Meningioma. Ninety plus percent of the time Meningiomas are benign which leads many people to think it is not that serious. Well, it is very serious, as the brain is a very delicate and complicated structure and any type of tumor that is pressing on it is therefore pressing on brain tissue or other delicate structures.
Wow, Tracy. So what were the particulars of the Meningioma you suffered from?
In my case, my Meningioma was on the left side of my skull. It was wrapped around my carotid artery and it pressed against my optic nerve. I went through a 10 hour craniotomy and I now have a titanium plate AND screws in my skull. Thank God my tumor is benign, but I have still endured the most difficult time of my life.
What are some of the effects you’ve experienced as a result of this brain tumor, and has there been anything positive to come out of this situation?
Everything about me is different. I have a right leg that slightly drags and it gets worse when I am fatigued. My speech is affected at times and I suffer from a fatigue that is indescribable. Cognitively I am not the same. I skip words when I talk and I forget that I have said things so I will often repeat myself. Yet, all of the changes in me have not been negative. I have conquered and faced many fears I never thought I would be able to. I am more vocal now and am in charge of my medical files and treatment. I realized quickly that doctors are blessings but they are not GODS. I am still healing even a year later as the tumor was removed in July of last year but I am here and able to tell my story and best of all, I am still blessed to be able to enjoy life with my husband Mario, my children, my family and my friends.
You’ve also conquered another great hurdle, Tracy. Every time I hear the story, I am amazed. Would you share with my readers what that great hurdle was?
Well Angela, as you know, over the past year I have lost over 147 pounds.
Cousin, no matter how many times I hear the story, I continue to be astounded that you battled a brain tumor and weight loss…all around the same time! If you don’t mind, please tell my readers how you did it?
Over the years I had tried diet plan after diet plan. Weight loss was constantly on my mind. I wanted to fit in and not loathe going shopping because nothing fit. I spent my younger years being told "you have such a pretty face, if you would just lose weight." The whole weight issue has been a very hurtful part of my life. In school, I was the last to get picked in gym, and through the years, people would not be-friend me because of my weight. Throughout my life, I have been bullied and teased.
Finally, I made the decision to have weight loss surgery called the Gastric Sleeve, whereby 85% of my stomach was removed. I had the surgery done about six months before I found out I had a brain tumor. In my surgery, there was no re-routing of my intestines or creation of a pouch or new stomach. I am now only able to eat about 1/4 of what I used to eat at one sitting. I am not promoting this surgery or encouraging anyone else to have it done, but I will say this about it. The surgery saved my life and I couldn't be happier in this department.
I still have about 40lbs to lose to be at what is considered a normal weight, but to tell you the truth I feel comfortable right now at the weight I am. Some people believe having weight loss surgery is taking the easy way out but I can say with all honesty, it is not! I still must choose healthy foods to eat and incorporate exercise into my daily routine.
Tracy, you are truly an inspiration. Although you haven’t mentioned it yet, you have other health issues that have slowed you down some. What are they?
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chiari Malformation, and chronic anemia caused by a deficiency in the blood called G6PD. I also suffer from osteoarthritis and two bulging discs in my neck. I know it sounds like a lot of health issues but I am just trying to manage things one condition at a time.
And Tracy, let me just say, you are doing a phenomenal job managing everything, including, a new career. But Tracy, let’s be frank. A lot of people would have said, after dealing with just one of the things you have dealt with, "Okay, I give up." But you never did. What kept you motivated to not stop?
I have had many, many days when I have just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out of it. But, I keep my mind busy by reading each day and speaking with and keeping in contact with friends and classmates from school. I gladly accept help from my family and others who offer. But most of all I hold my head high. On the days I am in a lot of pain I pray, spend quiet time outside in nature by walking slowly around my neighborhood and I pray some more. And, as you mentioned, I have even begun my own business. I am an Avon representative! Running the business is helping me in the cognitive areas that I am struggling with and it also allows me to stay engaged with others. Lastly, Avon is providing a secondary source of income for my family, despite my disabilities.
But why Avon? What drew you to that particular company?
Avon is a company that has successfully been in business for over 100 years, and Avon representatives have the flexibility of running a small side business or build something larger. I love that the prices are reasonable and I personally use many of the products myself. Also, I love working for a company that sells itself. Everyone knows Avon!
My memories of Avon representatives are those ladies who used to come door-to-door. Has Avon changed from that model at all?
There are still representatives who operate their business door-to-door only. But then there are those representatives who prefer to run their business online. Either way, running an Avon business requires getting the word out; whether it is through passing out brochures or establishing a web presence. I try to do both. Each campaign, I try to canvas my neighborhood with books and I try to reach new clients online. Recently, I began a Facebook Business Page called Avon Beauty. For example, even though you and I are in different states, separated by hundreds of miles, I am still able to be your “Avon Lady” through my website. The online component of Avon is what has taken it from being your grandmother’s Avon to what it is today, not to mention the fact that the products have also evolved over time. All in all, Avon is the same in some ways, but different in all the ways that count.
Well, I must confess, cousin. I do love getting those boxes with all of my neat Avon products every few weeks. Especially the products for my feet!
(Laughing) Yes, I know.
Well, Tracy, thank you for sharing your story with me again and with my readers. As I said before, your story is remarkable, and I would say that even if you weren't my cousin. I truly believe others will be as touched by your story as I was and continue to be.
Thank you, Angela.
Readers, if you would like a chance to win some incredible Avon products, leave a note for Tracy below and automatically, you will be entered into a drawing for a gift bag valued at $25. The winner of the gift bag will be announced on her Facebook Avon Beauty page on September 22, 2013. I will also announce the winner here on my blog. Click here to subscribe to her Facebook page. If you have additional questions about Avon or Tracy’s story, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you enjoyed this interview and would like to read more like it, please subscribe to my blog on the right side of the page! Take care.
Karen Jones Gowen
Full disclosure: Karen Jones Gowen is my editor at WiDo Publishing. Second full disclosure: Karen is the author of five books, including a cookbook. For those who know me, I do not cook with recipes. They intimidate me. Give me more than three ingredients and I am OVERWHELMED, not to mention, I am 95% vegetarian (I eat fish maybe once or twice a month, making me a pescetarian) so it isn’t always easy for me to find simple, delicious recipes without meat or meat products. However, Karen’s book, Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for the Active Family, did not intimidate me at all. Her recipes are wholesome and filling, and quite a few of them are already vegetarian based, like her recipe for Veggie Bake (It has only FOUR count them FOUR main ingredients, y’all!). But for all you meat lovers, fear not. There are plenty of great recipes for you, from what I’ve been told, like her Cajun Pot Roast and her Slow Cooker Boneless Pork Ribs.
However, before we talk about Karen’s books and her publishing endeavors, let’s begin at the beginning.
Karen Jones Gowen was born and raised in central Illinois, the daughter of a Methodist minister from Indiana and a school teacher from Nebraska. Karen has what one would call down-to-earth Midwestern roots. She attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and then transferred to the University of Illinois in Champaign–Urbana. After converting to Mormonism at the age of 20, Gowen transferred to Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, where she met her future husband, Bruce Gowen. She obtained her degree at BYU in English and American Literature.
Karen and Bruce have lived in Utah, Illinois, California and Washington, currently residing near Salt Lake City. They are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen's writing.
Karen, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Let me just jump right in. There are so many amazing cookbooks on the market, what distinguishes Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for the Active Family from the rest?
Farm Girl Country Cooking comes from years of planning menus and cooking for a large family, and from having to find recipes that feed a lot of hungry appetites without taking all my time and money. So many recipes now are too fancy and take too much time, plus using specialized ingredients that require extra cash. Teenage boys only care if a dish on the table tastes good and fills them up. And what I cared about was that they got a nice balance of vegetables and whole grains, with less meat, which is expensive. That’s why many of the recipes in my cookbook are easily adapted for vegetarians. We usually had three or four meatless meals each week.
And I know how hard it is to decide what to make with what, as I still struggle with that when I need to make a dinner for more than just my husband and me. So I linked up main dish, side dishes and even dessert to give ideas to my readers. I experimented a lot before we went to press with what looked and tasted good together and what could work well when time was short.
Did any of your recipes come from other sources besides your experimenting and having fun in the kitchen?
Yes. I had so many recipes and meals that were part of our family history, you might say. Things my mother and grandmother had made that I’d used with my children, along with recipes I developed that were our family favorites. I wanted to combine them in one published cookbook, and in the process maybe help others who struggled to plan meals every night.
Karen, let’s shift gears a little. I want my readers to know that you are a writer who wears multiple hats. My first introduction to your writing was through your fiction. So I wonder, of all of the writing you do, from fiction to cookbooks, is there one genre you enjoy better, and if so, which?
I definitely prefer writing novels. Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds were both autobiographical novels, and then I did Lighting Candles in the Snow which was complete fiction. I felt like I’d crossed a threshold with Candles, as it dealt with addiction, a dysfunctional marriage and divorce—three things I thankfully had no personal experience with. I had to do research, and when readers who had dealt with these issues said it struck true to them, it made me feel like I had gotten it right. I’d love to write more novels about things I know nothing about, because it’s so rewarding to get into a completely different perspective.
So, I have to ask. You have written Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds, House of Diamonds, Lighting Candles in the Snow, and your cookbook, Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for the Healthy Family. Do you have a sixth book in mind?
I’m currently working on a novel about a woman who experiences a traumatic experience at work and is subsequently paralyzed by fear. She has a drastic plan to overcome her fear but before she can implement it, she gets in a terrible accident that puts her in a coma. It is tentatively called “Waking Up,” due to be published next year. After that I want to write another in the Diamond series, which will be #3 in my Mormon family saga. Not sure of the title yet, although my husband says it should be called The Baseball Diamond. Haha! Not likely.
I know the story behind how you got into the publishing industry has been fully discussed in your blog post called “The Truth about Farm Girl”; however, would you mind sharing just a little of that story with us?
In my family, we like to say that while some publishing companies launch a book, in WiDo’s case, it was a book that launched a publishing company. That book was Farm Girl, a folklore history I wrote to honor my mother on her 90th birthday. I had no idea it would lead to the creation of a traditional book publishing company that has released 40 books.
Karen, I teach full-time, write, and have a family, and most times, I’m overwhelmed by it all. How are you able to balance being a wife, mother, writer and business person?
This is extremely difficult, because writing uses the creative side of one’s psyche while business uses the competitive, analytic side. However, I’d have to say that any writer today has to deal with this disconnect of the creative vs. the business. As writers we must promote ourselves and our books if we want to find readers in today’s hugely competitive market.
Personally, I have to schedule my writing time and set weekly and monthly goals, or I’d never get any books of my own out.
Your son William Gowen, is the CEO of WiDo Publishing, and your husband Bruce is the business manager, while you are managing editor. What is it like to work with your family?
The first few years of WiDo’s existence consisted of numerous family members working together to implement this huge idea, along with the financial support of our generous and anonymous investor. Our son Don did the typesetting and covers; our daughter Liesel was an editor; William (we call him Billy) was an insightful decision-maker as well as an excellent editor; and other family was involved as well in various capacities. It wasn’t until early 2012 that we branched out from using only family, who really needed to devote more time to their own jobs and interests, to hiring freelancers.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my husband and children to build something that has made so many writers’ dreams come true. Being a family of readers and book-fanatics, it’s incredibly rewarding that we have had this opportunity to publish so many wonderful books.
What are some of your dreams for the future of the publishing house?
Next year, 2014, we will reach the huge milestone of having published 50 books. It hardly seems possible since we went from 2007 – 2010 basically learning the ropes while publishing only a few books. We are forever grateful for the authors who took a chance on us early on, like William Everett Prusso (Ghost Waves, 2009), David J. West (Heroes of the Fallen, 2010), and Tamara Hart Heiner (Perilous, 2010). We barely knew what we were doing back then, yet these writers stuck with us during the extremely long editing and publishing process. Our time now from submissions to release is cut by about half what these good people had to endure.
In addition, since 2009 the entire publishing industry has been going through a tremendous overhaul: from POD to ebooks to bookstores closing to the rise of self-publishing and of social media marketing. Many publishers, large and small, went out of business during that time, and I can hardly believe our little company survived it all and has even thrived. We are getting more submissions than ever and look forward to the 100 books released milestone.
We see our immediate future being to continue the current pace of publishing an average of 12-15 books a year, supporting our authors along the way from editing to book release and beyond. Within the next five years, we’d like to double our yearly output to releasing 24-30 books a year. We also plan to integrate more aggressive online marketing campaigns for all of our books.
At this moment, what type of authors are you seeking?
We really love the enthusiastic authors who are excited about learning everything they can about navigating this great new world of online book marketing. In today’s bookselling world, it is the writer who is the face of the book. Readers could care less who the publisher is; instead, they’re often attracted to a book by who the author is.
Writers can no longer stay in the background, quietly and anonymously writing. They’ve got to get out there and pull in their readership. It can be difficult since most writers are introverted, even reclusive, but the good news is that social media is the ideal vehicle for the reclusive writer to build a platform that also builds relationships with potential readers.
For some of our authors, it comes easily and when they submit to us they have a solid platform already in place. For others, it’s brand new, with a definite learning curve until they can comfortably navigate social media. We like people willing to learn, to give their books the best chance of success by putting themselves out there, whether in person or online. And we will guide them and support and assist them along the way, because both publisher and author have the same goals: to put out a quality product that will attract readers and sales.
We also like writers who are flexible and willing to work with their editors, willing to accept certain changes in their work or their ideas of what the cover or title should be in order to make the book more marketable. We try to be flexible too; because we want our authors to love their books as much when they’re published as they did when they finished the last draft and sent it off to submissions.
What is one piece of advice you would give up-and-coming writers whose goal is to be a published author?
Write, write and write some more. Write everything, not just books. Write like your life depended on it, because you won’t have a career as a writer if you don’t. You’ve got to love the whole idea and process of writing, despite the no money and the bad prose and the rejection and failure and discouragement. The more you write the better you will be, until one day you have the completed manuscript that someone outside your family and friends will love and want to invest in.
Thank you, Karen. So readers, if you enjoyed reading about Karen and her many adventures in the publishing world, leave a comment and THE FIRST THREE people to leave a comment will receive an autographed copy of Karen’s book Farm Girl.
If any of you readers or writers would like to learn more about WiDo publishing, click here.
On February 26, 2004, I wrote the following in my journal: I want to be a writer but I don't know if I have what it takes. I just need to commit myself to the task of writing and then send my work out. I'm tired of getting fired up about writing and then, the momentum dies. I make all of these promises to myself about writing and then I break them. Maybe I should just give up. (Message for today: Success is never a destination; it's a journey.) -- Satenig St. Marie.
We all have dark days. We just have to remember that if we continue to push on, those dark days can be distant memories.