Q&A with (Extra)Ordinary Women Author Kristin Bartzokis

Kristin Bartzokis is an extraordinary woman. Born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a craniofacial abnormality, Kristin experienced a childhood marked by surgeries and medical procedures, all while she became a champion gymnast. As an adult, Kristin has proudly accepted the challenge to stand out.

That’s why she was the perfect person to write (Extra)Ordinary Women: Ten Inspirational Stories, releasing from KiCam Projects in October.

In her forthcoming book, Kristin, whose memoir Diary of a Beautiful Disaster is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Inspirational Book, profiles seemingly “everyday” women whose resilience and strength will inspire women around the world.

These women have defeated breast cancer, addiction, and homelessness. They have lived through the Boston Marathon bombing and hundreds of surgeries. They have traveled from foreign lands to create a better life. They have endured brain cancer, abuse, and poverty. They have given a home to dozens of special-needs children. They have known loss, pain, and fear.

And these extraordinary women remind us to never give up, never quit, and never underestimate the power of a woman.

In this Q&A, Kristin describes what she learned from the women in her book and what it means to her to be extraordinary.

What do you think makes an extraordinary woman?

I think an extraordinary woman is someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. She knows who she is and doesn’t forget where she came from, whether good or bad. She has the courage to face her adversity and the strength to prevail when times get tough. She won’t wait around for someone else to make her future brighter; she takes the measures to make it happen herself. An extraordinary woman isn’t flawless; she might falter and make mistakes, but she has the determination to bounce back from those mistakes and learn from them in the process. She is a woman with heart and gumption, and she sees no limitations to her life.

What did you learn from the women you profile in this book?

I learned so much from the women in this book. Some reiterated the importance of staying positive throughout the worst trials of life. Others taught me that even if you make a mistake, you can always right your wrong.  But above all, I learned that no matter what any of us has been through, we can use those experiences to affect the lives of others.

One of the themes throughout the book is the idea of choosing to be strong. What does that mean to you, and how has that played out in your own life?

“Choose Strong” is actually my motto. Having been born with a craniofacial syndrome known as Treacher Collins, I endured numerous reconstructive surgeries throughout my life. I decided at a very young age that I wouldn’t let those surgeries break me. I focused on the positive things in my life rather than the negative. I realized that I could control my reactions to negative variables, and to me that meant summoning my mental fortitude even when I was in pain or in fear. Choosing to be strong helped me realize that I could face my obstacles head on and succeed. And that was a game changer, because it ended up being what people came to admire most about me.

You dedicated this book to your mom. How has she inspired you?

Both of my parents were unbelievable assets to my life. They both raised me to believe I could accomplish anything. They never treated my craniofacial syndrome as a hindrance; it was just an obstacle that needed to be conquered on the road to success. My mom, however, was the person who stayed with me through all my hospital stays, which at times were five to seven days in length. Because she worked in medicine, she watched over me and let the nurses tend to the other patients. She put her life on hold just to be there for me when I needed it most, and her constant presence comforted me.

What do you hope readers take away from (Extra)Ordinary Women?

I hope readers understand that not all inspirational stories require big, heroic measures. Inspiration can be found in the everyday, daily lives of the ordinary people we interact with on a regular basis. Inspiration isn’t only about actions; it is about how we choose to live our lives day in and day out.

Order your copy of (Extra)Ordinary Women today!

Welcome New Author: Dr. Scot Hodkiewicz

KiCam Projects is delighted to welcome author Dr. Scot Hodkiewicz, whose book Going through Hell to Get to Heaven will release in January 2019.

We first met Scot at BookExpo in June and immediately were moved by his story. Scot and his family were nearly killed when their vehicle was hit by an intoxicated driver on a highway in their home state of Wisconsin. Through the course of his long, painful recovery, Scot learned that he’d been living his life according to his own “master plan”—and that his plan wasn’t the one that mattered. A Christian, Scot realized his faith wasn’t as strong or as active as he’d once believed. In fact, he’d put his own will over God’s will, and he would have to search his soul to find both the humility and the strength to change his approach to life.

Along his journey, Scot encountered many angels on Earth who helped him face his mortality, the fear of losing his veterinary business, worries about not being able to provide for his family, and a dependency on pain medication. With each trial, Scot learned to listen for God’s voice and direction, and his story now enables others to do the same.

Scot’s goal for this book is to help other Christians consider their lives and ask themselves whether they’re living on their own terms or on God’s. Each chapter contains reflection questions perfect for use in Bible studies and other faith-sharing groups, but Scot is never preachy. His style is conversational, often humorous, and always relatable to anyone who has ever had to overcome a challenge or tragedy.

As Scot says, “Heaven and Hell are here on Earth, and we get to choose which one we enter. To enter Heaven, we just have to get rid of the anger and hate that keep us in Hell.”

Welcome to the KiCam family, Scot!

Q&A with ‘Permanent Marker’ Author Aimee Ross

Aimee Ross was living a perfectly normal life raising three kids, married to her high school sweetheart, and teaching at her high school alma mater. Life was perfect—right until it wasn’t.

Unhappy in her marriage, Aimee asked for a divorce. Three days later, she suffered a heart attack at age forty-one. Five months after that, she survived a near-fatal car crash caused by an intoxicated driver.

Her physical recovery took months and left her body marked by scars. The emotional recovery, though, would take longer, as Aimee sought to forgive the man who almost killed her—and to forgive herself for tearing apart her family.

Permanent Marker takes readers on a journey of healing, proving that from darkness can come new light, new love, and a renewed purpose for life.

What prompted you to write your memoir and share your very personal experiences with readers?

I had to understand what happened to me: Who had I been, and who did I become? I knew I was different. I knew something life-changing had happened to me, and I needed to understand how it had affected me so deeply. Sharing the experiences is education at its basic level—teaching and learning from each other. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t know how not to share.

How did reliving your most painful experiences—a divorce, a heart attack, a near-fatal car crash—affect you? Did it feel therapeutic, or was it harder than you anticipated?

I’ve been working on this for more than six years, to tell the truth. When I first started writing, it was only about the accident. Before I knew it, the story of my divorce and heart attack was bubbling out of me without control. Within months, I realized that even though I’d chosen to get divorced, the heart attack and accident just happened to me; my first reaction was that karma was paying me back. Guilt made me wonder if I’d deserved all of what happened, and ultimately, that’s when I started asking the bigger questions of myself through writing that most definitely—as the book explains—became my therapy. I cried a lot and processed a lot. And thank goodness, because it worked. (But I’ve always believed in writing as a cathartic, insightful experience, says this veteran English teacher.)

Which writers and works inspired you to put your own story on paper? Who has influenced your writing style?

Darin Strauss’s Half a Life and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love both inspired me. Strauss experienced a traumatic accident as well, and as a result, he dealt with his guilt through writing his memoir—I took strength from that. Early in Gilbert’s book, she briefly writes about the end of her marriage, and it has always stuck with me.

My younger sister is a humor writer, and she’s been influencing and guiding my writing for years, no matter whether I was working on an essay, a lesson plan, a presentation, or an application. I’m also a huge fan of Abigail Thomas’s writing style, which I studied during my MFA. She writes almost conversationally, and she experiments with voice and chronology (or lack of) brilliantly. Both Jill Christman’s (Darkroom) and Cheryl Strayed’s (Wild) writing also have influenced my style and not just their books—both women are prolific essay writers with unique, straightforward creative voices.

What makes a great memoir? What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to get started with a memoir?

A great memoir, no matter the writer’s experience, makes you feel as if you have been through it with her. Not only does the writer have a voice that’s relatable and realistic, her story has universal qualities that help you identify with it while making you feel something.

After hearing the same advice over and over again, from editors, writers, and publishers alike, I decided, “Hey, maybe, they all know something I don’t (duh, Aimee),” so here it is: Figure out the story you want to tell and why it needs to be told. Then get it all out in writing. Every bit of it. After you do that, then you look for patterns and similarities and gaps, or ways you could experiment or change the structure.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

For me, it has been the challenge of the writing itself: telling my story the best way I can and finding just the right words to say what I want. That gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. When I can read something I’ve written over and over again in a quest for perfection and feel proud, that’s fulfilling, too.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Permanent Marker?

Ultimately, I think we’re all asking the same questions of ourselves—Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How do I get through this struggle?—and memoir is the perfect genre to find possible answers in others’ experiences to help us answer our own.

Where to Find Kilee Brookbank This Fall

Kilee Brookbank, the inspiring burn survivor behind the story of Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined, has a busy fall lineup of signings and appearances in the Greater Cincinnati area.

While Kilee finishes her third semester at Xavier University, here’s when and where you can meet her and get a signed copy of her award-winning book:

Want more on Kilee? Learn about her charitable foundation at KileeGivesBack.org and visit her personal website at KileeBrookbank.com.

And stay tuned to this website to find out about Kilee’s upcoming appearance on a nationally syndicated TV program! 

Join Five KiCam Authors at ‘Brews and Books’

Cincinnati-area book lovers, come meet KiCam authors Kilee Brookbank, Laura Dewire, Danielle and Christopher Jones, and Keith Maginn from 3-7 p.m. Sunday, November 26, at West Side Brewing in Westwood.

The inaugural “Brews and Books” event also will feature several other local authors and include everything from children’s books, sports books, nonfiction, and holiday books.

This is a great opportunity to purchase some unique holiday gifts: books signed with personal messages from the authors!

“Brews and Books” is a family-friendly event, as well. Of course there will be great local beer, but there also will be plenty of root beer, soft drinks, and food for guests of all ages.

We look forward to seeing you, and we thank you for supporting local businesses and authors!

Lori Highlander

Q&A with ‘Beautiful Scars’ author Lori Highlander

Lori HighlanderLori Highlander was a pretty typical working mom, raising two teenage children and two stepsons in a rural community outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. But in November 2014, Lori’s home erupted in flames caused by a gas leak—and Lori’s daughter, Kilee Brookbank, then 16, was caught inside. Kilee made it out of the blazing house but spent the next 38 days recovering from second- and third-degree burns over almost half her body. When she returned home from the hospital, Kilee needed constant care and physical therapy, and Lori found her life turned upside down. Now, almost three years later, Kilee has made a full recovery, and Lori, 41, has teamed with her daughter on the book Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined and the nonprofit Kilee Gives Back Foundation to raise awareness of and money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Here, Lori shares her family’s triumphant story and offers some inspiring words for other parents going through difficult times.

What prompted you to share your family’s intimate story with the world?

We decided to share our story to raise awareness for Shriners Hospitals for Children and to help others who might be experiencing similar situations. No matter what you are going through in life, you can make it if you try hard enough. There might be quite a few bumps along the way, but through each struggle, we are given that life experience for a reason. You can choose to do something about it, or you can sit back and play the victim role. It’s a choice, and our family chose to do something positive with our story

Beautiful ScarsDid the writing process give you a new perspective on what you had been through?

Writing the book allowed me to go through the grieving process that I was unable to do while Kilee was recovering. I was so occupied with helping her and making sure she made a full recovery that I didn’t allow myself to go through all of the emotions. When I was writing the book, I actually sat down and was able to process it and let it all out. The mixed emotions poured out of me like I’d never felt before, and it was great to get it out. But I also had a reality check of how far Kilee and our family had truly come. It was a horrific accident, but Kilee made a miraculous recovery. She continues to inspire people and make the best of what happened, and we are so grateful for this life that we live.

Watching and helping your daughter recover from burns on nearly half of her body was an incredible challenge! How did it redefine your life and your family’s life together?

Our journey hasn’t been typical. At times, in the early days after the explosion, it almost seemed unbearable. But it’s made us who we are, as individuals and as a family. We’ve healed, we’ve grown stronger, and we will continue to share our story in hopes of helping others.

As a woman, have you changed your thoughts about self-image and body consciousness as a result of your experiences with Kilee?

It’s remarkable to see how strong Kilee has been and continues to be. It’s not easy to share your scars with the world, and she inspires young girls, teenagers, and women to be confident with their bodies and accept their flaws and to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. I am so proud of how brave Kilee continues to be, because she inspires me to be like her more and more every day.

What advice do you have for other parents facing seemingly impossible situations with their children?

I would encourage them to try to remain calm and have hope. We all have more strength than we realize, so stay positive and take one day at a time.

A portion of the proceeds of your book benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children-Cincinnati. What do you want people to know about Shriners Hospitals?

That they save the lives of children from around the world every day and there is no out-of-pocket cost to the children’s families. Shriners Hospitals are amazing places that we will continue to support in any way we can. We are forever grateful to them for saving Kilee’s life!

Q&A with ‘Salvation on Death Row’ Author John T. Thorngren

John T. Thorngren’s life has been one of varied experiences that have taken him from Paris, France, to the oil fields of Texas. He’s manufactured car-wash soap, owned a retail store, operated a chemical plant, and programmed computers. He’s the author of a book about probability and statistics and a songwriter of Southern Gospel.

So maybe it’s only fitting that an unexpected path led him to tell the story of a woman condemned to die on Texas’s Death Row, now hoping for parole in 2019. The twists and turns of his life have led Thorngren to find the value in every human soul, regardless of the journey that soul has taken.

This is the background behind Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story.

How did you come to know Pamela Perillo’s story, and what made you decide hers was a story you wanted to write?

I discovered an old friend was on Death Row in another state. Drugs were the root cause. As an effort to bring attention to his case, I decided to write a fiction novel about a woman falsely accused and condemned in Texas. Needing realism, by chance, I contacted Pamela Perillo, currently incarcerated in Gainesville. Pamela is a private person and had never allowed anyone to tell her story. We found we had a spiritual match and so began this effort.

Tell us about the process. How long did it take you to research the many documents and legal proceedings you cite, and how did you work with Pamela to bring her voice to the project?

Pamela and I worked on this project from 2010 through 2017.  This involved over fifty telephone conversations, 150 letters, and countless hours of research.

Did you ever find yourself surprised or challenged by what you learned as you wrote the book?

Yes, very much surprised. I was surprised about how political the causes for and against the death penalty have become. I was extremely surprised about the Frances Newman case. She personified the worst fear of those against the death penalty—the execution of the innocent. I and many others believe she was unjustly convicted and condemned.

How did this project change or affect your beliefs about the criminal justice system and, specifically, capital punishment?

I once believed that the criminal justice system and capital punishment were fair and equitable—a sort of Pollyanna viewpoint. Now, I believe that there are dark undercurrents to the contrary, and that once you are convicted and condemned, the justice system behaves like the proverbial snapping turtle that will not let loose till it thunders, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Slowly, I see our country becoming more compassionate regarding the death penalty, and I am encouraged.

Can you tell us about Patriot PAWS and why you chose that organization to benefit from the proceeds of Salvation on Death Row?

Patriot Paws was chosen on behalf of Pamela’s efforts to train service dogs. As noted in the book, Pamela’s encounters with animals throughout a difficult childhood shaped her talent in what she is doing now. She and her fellow trainers have made many service dogs available without cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Pamela plans to continue this effort after she is released. Certainly, any monies from my involvement should go to Patriot Paws, as neither Pamela nor I began this effort for profit. There’s a beautiful video describing Patriot Paws through the eyes of Texas Country Reporter; Pamela is in several scenes.

How does your own experience, as the survivor of three heart attacks and two heart surgeries, influence your thinking about the value of all people’s lives?

I am sure everyone who has had their chest cracked open like a crab will tell you how much bluer the sky looks. But I believe everyone, if they look back on their life with discerning eyes, regardless of their health, prosperity, or misery, must conclude that they were put here for a purpose, that every life is precious and none worth taking.

What do you hope readers take away from learning Pamela’s story?

I would answer this with a short story from a personal experience. Years past, I used to write my own Christmas cards, a poem or a two-paragraph vignette. These went out not only to family and friends but to business contacts, many of whom I had never met. For several years there were no comments—good or bad. One afternoon, one of these business contacts, whom I did not know, telephoned and said the card had made his Christmas. One rarely knows what we do that benefits others, but when we do—even for just one—we leap with joy. So if the story of Pamela’s life helps but one soul, then our effort was well worth the undertaking.

A Teacher’s Perspective: How to Comfort a Grieving Child

In recognition of October marking Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, A Corner of Heaven author Laura Dewire shares her experience as a teacher helping young children grieve a loss in their family. 

In caring for children, there are things you learn by studying. There are pedagogies and theories all about child development and practices that are appropriate for young minds.

There are also things that can be learned only by doing. I’ve been a first- and second-grade teacher for three years now, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to care for a child who is hurting.

There are certain kinds of hurt that can be fixed with a Lion King Band-Aid and a big hug. There are other kinds of hurt that require a snuggle session with a good book. And then there is the inexplicable kind of hurt you can’t take away or make better no matter how hard you try.

When there is loss in a child’s life, the way in which he or she processes pain looks a lot different from the way an adult or even a teenager might handle grief. It’s important not to underestimate or overestimate what exactly a child is feeling.

The best practices I’ve found for helping a child who is grieving are:

  1. Be an active listener. Allow the child to feel a full range of emotions—sometimes all at the same time. Be the listener you would need if you were hurting or upset.
  2. Be a safe place. A child in school spends more waking time with a teacher than with his or her family during the school year. This means the classroom environment you create has the potential to be a respite for a child who is hurting. Structure and routines are so important in a child’s life! Providing that stability is a major component to aiding a child who is grieving.
  3. Be flexible. When a child’s life is interrupted by pain, the child will react in a way that represents that sudden change. There will be days when everything goes according to plan, and there will be days when you feel lucky to have made it out with all your hair still attached. Remaining flexible and staying positive are imperative.

There is no greater pain for me than to see one of my students automaten hurting. Whether it’s because he fell off the monkey bars or because she’s lost a sibling or parent, when my children hurt, I hurt. Sometimes there are perfect words to say, and sometimes words fail. In times when words fall short, simply be there.

Love them.

Q&A with ‘Beautiful Scars’ Author Kilee Brookbank

Kilee Brookbank was just sixteen years old when she suffered severe burns in a house fire that would change the course of her life forever. Now nineteen, Kilee is a college student, author, speaker, and philanthropist who has found the beauty in her scars and uses her story to inspire readers and listeners of all ages. Get to know the brave young woman behind Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined.

What prompted you to share with the world your personal story as a burn survivor?

I wanted to share my story because I realized there are plenty of other people in the world who have gone through the same things as I have or who could relate to my story in some way. I want to be someone for those people to look up to and to look to for guidance, and I felt like my story had a way of helping people get through any issues that might come up in their lives.

As you wrote the book, did you learn anything new about yourself? Did the writing process give you an added perspective on what you had been through?

Writing the updated edition of Beautiful Scars was something I felt needed to happen. A lot of things have gone on in my life since we wrote the first book. I have changed as a person, and so has my entire life. While going back through and rewriting it, I kept thinking about everything I have been through. I have always appreciated what has come of my hard times, and the writing process has helped me to get where I am today emotionally.

In what ways has being a survivor caused you to redefine your life?

Being a burn survivor has made me want to do much more than I ever imagined before the accident. I want to give back and especially want to be someone that people can look up to. Ever since the accident, I have never let my experiences or my scars define me; I have always been true to who I am. I have redefined how I think of life and the purpose that everyone has in their lives. Being a burn survivor has made me a better person.

You wear your scars proudly. What do they mean to you?

They signify that I have been through something horrible and came out on the other side just as happy as I was when I didn’t have scars. Some people would be embarrassed or uncomfortable wearing their scars proudly and letting them be visible, but I choose to not think of it as something I need to be ashamed of. People who see your scars don’t know how it feels to be proud of yourself for getting through one of the hardest things. Of course, I am always going to catch people looking, but I don’t let it bother me. I just brush it off.

In a world that is so focused on how women look, what are your words of wisdom for embracing our bodies as they are? How do you challenge the standards of what “beauty” is?

These days, women are constantly worried about body image and their self-confidence. Having scars, I know how it feels to be looked at and examined out of curiosity or whatever it might be. I choose to not let it bother me or let it get me down, which is what I think every woman should do. No one is perfect, and no matter what, people are always going to care for you because of who you are and not what you look like. My advice for any woman who might be struggling with embracing her body would be to not let anyone’s words define who you are. You might not look what society calls “normal,” and that’s okay. It is no one’s business to judge someone based on what others look like. Beauty is on the inside just as much as, if not more than, it is on the outside.

A portion of the proceeds of your book benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children-Cincinnati. What do you want people to know about Shriners Hospitals?

Shriners Hospitals do incredible work. They are an amazing team, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. No matter what, they always put their patients’ care and their patients’ families first. That is what is so amazing about them: They understand what patients and families are going through, and they are willing to do anything and everything they can to help people.

What do you hope readers take away from Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined?

I want them to take away all the positives and use them in their everyday lives. Dwelling on the negative can be consuming to a person, and that is something that can make your own life, as well as the lives of others around you, miserable. It is important that readers know I appreciate all the support I have in my life and that I love being able to be someone others can look up to. It is an honor to know I can help just one person, and that is why I try my hardest to inspire people.

What We’re Doing to Battle the Addiction Epidemic

You’ve probably heard some of the news about the addiction epidemic in the United States, but here are some facts you might not know as we approach National Recovery Month:

• More than 20 million Americans over the age of twelve have a substance-use disorder, and drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
• As of late 2016, Ohio led the nation in opioid-overdose deaths, and one in nine heroin deaths in the United States occurred in the Buckeye State—the most in the country.
• Montgomery County, Ohio, is on pace for 800 overdose deaths in 2017—highest per capita in the nation.

At KiCam Projects, we’re doing our part to raise awareness about addiction, destigmatize it, and provide information that empowers readers to help themselves and their loved ones lead healthy, sober lives.

“From the beginning of the company, we’ve been committed to furthering the conversation about addiction by publishing at least one addiction-based book each year,” says Lori Highlander, who founded KiCam in 2015 and has spent most of her career as an executive in the addiction-recovery field. “Most people’s lives have been touched by drug or alcohol addiction in some way, and we want to do everything in our power to help readers take action to better their lives, their family members’ lives, and their communities overall.”

In October 2016, we published Addiction, Recovery Change: A How-To Manual for Successfully Navigating Sobriety, written by Adams Recovery Center, to meet the needs of individuals leaving treatment and beginning a new lifestyle.

In May 2017, The Fix: A Father’s Secrets, A Daughter’s Search focused on addiction’s effects on the family, based on the real-life experience of author Sharon Leder, whose father died of a heroin overdose.

And on September 12, we will release Accept, Reflect, Commit: Your First Steps to Addiction Recovery, also by Adams Recovery Center, a practical guidebook for individuals ready to seek treatment for themselves or a loved one.

The launch of Accept, Reflect, Commit will be marked by a training and networking event for addiction-care professionals hosted by Adams Recovery Center from 1-3:30 p.m. September 12 at the Union Township Civic Center near Cincinnati.

“We’re currently planning our addiction-related books for 2018 and 2019, because we know this problem isn’t going away,” Highlander says. “As long as our country is dealing with this crisis, KiCam will be here, working to be part of the solution.”