An interview with Linda Rosenbaum, author of Not Exactly as Planned.
What was your inspiration for writing Not Exactly As Planned?
I had several reasons for writing this book. One was very personal. I grew up in the 1960s, believing that the world could be changed for the better. In the course of raising our son with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), I learned the hard truth: we can’t fix all that is broken. This was a hard reality for me to face, and one that I’ve come to learn is common for many parents. I think accepting what is, rather than what we hope for, is essential if we are to love our children as they deserve to be loved. But it’s not easy, so I wanted to share my story of hope and acceptance with other caregivers facing similar struggles.
I also wanted to make people more aware of FASD, the most common, yet preventable cause of developmental disability in North America. Most people, including many doctors, remain unaware of it and of the ways it profoundly affects individuals and their families. It’s been my hope that my book will bring comfort and hope to families struggling to raise children with FASD, and give professionals who work with these families a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges we live with.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Some people say writing about personal difficulties is cathartic. I wish. This wasn’t my experience at all. It was extremely painful going back, and virtually reliving troubled periods in our family’s life. I knew it was essential, though, if I wanted to write an emotionally honest book. It was tempting not to.
What was the greatest challenge bringing the book to market?
Several publishers were lavish with praise about my book, but wary of ‘one more book by a mother writing about raising her child.’ They didn’t think there was a market. It was insulting, really. Many of us have important stories to tell. So we need to support these authors, buy these books, and let publishers know the market isn’t and won’t be saturated for a long, long time.
What do you wish the reader to take away from the memoir?
First and foremost, I want the reader to enjoy Not Exactly As Planned. It’s a good read. While confronting serious issues, it’s filled with humour, joy and surprises. And, I believe its themes about hope, loss and acceptance are universal.
What books have had the greatest influence on you?
When I was young, I devoured books that opened my world. I read everything James Baldwin wrote. I loved Dickens. Consumed historical fiction. Could always be found leafing through the World Book encyclopedia in my parents’ house. They all did the trick. I now gravitate towards books written with heart, so consume a lot of memoirs. I am forever curious about how and why people become who they are. For a memoir to be good, I think it must be well-written, tell a story greater than the sum of its parts, and share feelings that are universal, though personal. Angela’s Ashes, The Glass Castle, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and I Feel Bad About My Neck do this really well.
How do you balance motherhood and writing?
I’m not sure I always have. When my first child was an infant, I stupidly took on a difficult magazine assignment. I handed in the piece, thinking I had done a decent job. The editor got back to me and said, not kindly, “This piece reads like it was written with a baby drooped over your shoulder.” I was devastated. I had a particularly difficult child, but she was right. There were times in my life when I was incapable of concentration or focus. My work suffered. I had to accept this. As my kids got older, I had more time and did a better job. My writing got better and tighter the more I wrote. After working on my book for several years, I noticed how much easier and faster the later chapters were to write. Of course, I wrote the book when my children were older and the burdens fewer. It may be related.
What advice would you give to mother writers?
It’s hard to give advice. Every mother’s situation is different. Everyone’s family dynamic is different, as is everyone financial situation. If you’re writing to put food on the table, you’ve got to use your time well and focus, every moment you have. Tough job. If you’re able to take a longer, less pressing view, enjoy your family and use whatever time you have to blog, keep a journal, write short stories, poems, or give yourself other not-too-demanding writing assignments. Just make sure you keep your hand in the game. Writers need to write. And you need to get better and better at it. So don’t stop writing. If you stick to the old cliche, “write about what you know,” you’ll have no shortage of material. But if you’re going to write the personal, best to find something universal in the story you want to tell. Oh, almost forgot. Whatever stage of motherhood, whatever situation you’re in, you MUST read. Doesn’t matter what. Read.