Salvation on Death Row cover

Author Post: 5 Reasons I Know God Has a Purpose for Every Life

John Thorngren headshotJohn T. Thorngren, author of Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story, believes firmly that every life is meaningful and worthy, no matter what a person’s background might be. That belief was at the core of his desire to work with Pamela and share the story of her Christian conversion. Here, John writes about what he knows in his heart—and why he knows it.
 

Five Reasons I Know God Has a Purpose for Every Life

These are five reasons I know God has a purpose for every life. It is a purpose that is not from a deterministic God but one I am convinced occurs from the product of our given free will, one to His glory, that is molded as we move forward from our choices, good or bad. Those listed below are from my observation, but I am certain there are many more.

    1. There are many passages in Scripture that detail God’s value for our life such as Matthew 10:29-31, paraphrased: He knows when every sparrow falls to the ground, and are we not worth many sparrows? If He knows when even a little sparrow passes, then how much more must He care for us? If we have no purpose, what could we be worth? Every person’s purpose is to glorify God.
    2. Jack Thorngren, my 45-year-old disabled son, who passed away at the first of 2017, is an example. Although heavily dependent on others, a fact he openly detested, he nonetheless displayed courage and mirth and was a blessing to all who knew him. All of us here on earth, whatever our limitations or situations, are here for a purpose.
    3. Pamela Perillo, the subject of Salvation on Death Row, is an example. Reprieved two days before her scheduled execution, Pam has been a spiritual help to many inmates. While incarcerated, she has trained over twenty-five service dogs for Patriot PAWS, which provides the animals without cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and PTSD symptoms. Pam plans to continue this vocation when finally paroled as a way of giving back to the world that which she has taken.
    4. Pamela’s life was spared, but three other Death Row inmates incarcerated with Pamela, as noted in my book, were executed. Genesis 50:20 sums up their lives best: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Their deaths were not in vain. Each was given a purpose before leaving. Karla Faye Tucker put a face to the spiritual “Born Again,” and support for the death penalty plummeted. Betty Lou Beets put a face to the disabled and spousal abuse. Frances Elaine Newton put a face to the execution of the innocent. All three women knew where they were going when they died. (And certainly, all those who have donated their lives to glorify God through the prison ministry are examples of divine purpose.)
    5. From an historical perspective, look at those who have been our inspirations, people such as Paul of the New Testament, Helen Keller, Joni Eareckson Tada, etc.—an innumerable list through time of those with afflictions who encouraged others through their sufferings.

But the greatest example of purpose, of course, came in the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

John T. Thorngren, a Texas writer and graduate of the University of Texas, has enjoyed a myriad of life experiences, working everywhere from basements to boardrooms. He is a songwriter published in Southern Gospel and an author of several patents, technical articles, and a nonfiction book on probability and statistics, in addition to Salvation on Death Row. John and his wife of more than five decades live in Shady Shores, Texas, on Lake Lewisville, where their livestock freely roam the grounds.

Aimee Ross

Author Post: On Writing and Nearly Dying Twice

Aimee RossAimee Ross published Permanent Marker: A Memoir in March 2018. She completed her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing at Ashland University in 2014, and her writing has been published on lifein10minutes.com and SixHens.com, as well as in Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Scars: An Anthology, Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators, and Teaching Tolerance magazine.

5 Things Writing Helped Me Understand after Nearly Dying (Twice)

“You are the author of your own life story,” promised the skinny strip of green bubble letters outlined in neon pink that used to hang above the chalkboard at the back of my classroom.

Back then, I believed in that language arts message as hallowed inspiration.

Now? Teacher-catalog b.s.

Only recently, I had become a character in my own life, and I didn’t know who was actually authoring the story. The one I was sick of telling. The one that delivered the same embarrassing reaction.

I was almost killed in a car accident. The other driver was under the influence. He died. I had to be resuscitated.

Disbelief: “Wow.”

Yeah, I was recovering from a heart attack that had happened five months earlier.

Surprise: “What?”

A heart attack. Yes, only forty-one years old. I know, crazy. It was stress. I had just told my husband of eighteen years that I wanted a divorce.

Next, pity: “That’s horrible” or “I’m so sorry.”

And then a final shrug or pat on the hand to quickly to end what could possibly turn lengthy if left unchecked, I suppose. “Well, you look great anyway.” 

The Trifecta

I’d had two brushes with death, made it through The Trifecta of Shit, and I “looked great anyway.”

I had recovered physically, yes, but my spirit, crushed between major life-changing moments, had shattered into countless irretrievable pieces, and I couldn’t make any sense of the mess. Guilt from ending my marriage and guilt from a young man’s death (survivor’s guilt?) haunted me. I wondered if I’d had a mid-life crisis. I wondered if God had sent that car into mine to punish me for the divorce. And I worried that it would define the rest of my life.

I needed the randomness of The Trifecta to have meaning. I needed to understand my survival. And I knew I was the only person who could put me back together again.

The Process of Healing through Writing

When I returned to teaching school six months after the accident, I discovered that my classroom was just what I needed. I was back in my comfort zone surrounded by teenagers, once again fueled by their energy. I sat in a chair at the front of the room, relishing being alive and back in my classroom.

When I assigned my students a writing project, I found myself writing alongside them every class period. No matter the prompt I gave, my writing always took me back to the Trifecta in some way, shape, or form, and before I knew it, I had a small collection of writing through which I attempted to process what had happened to me. I had done what I’ve always done when I wanted to organize the thoughts or solve a problem in my head: write.

Permanent MarkerFate and circumstance stepped in when I learned a local university offered a master’s program in creative writing, and I decided to apply immediately. I had always wanted to earn a graduate degree, and to do so in writing sounded like a dream. I could use the two years to write about and process my circumstances for a degree, and hey, maybe I’d have something publishable at the end. It couldn’t hurt to try.

Maybe I’d also find some peace along the way, the answers to the questions that haunted me: What had happened to me? Why was I still alive? And, who was I now?

I felt like I might already know the answers, but they were just outside of reach, tangled up and twisting around one another. So I kept writing.

Soon, through the regular rhythm of working out events on paper—or on a laptop screen— I saw my story unfold. Yes, it was messy, disjointed even, but I finally had an outlet for my grief and anger. Sometimes, random bits of the story came out of me at odd moments on scraps of paper, or a line would form in my mind while I vacuumed. Other times, I could sit down and write a part of the story with such clarity and insight that I shocked myself.

My story finally started to make sense.

What I Learned

Writing became my therapy, the words on the page a clear and thoughtful intervention. Soon I could even see the real-life, true-gold, only-can-be-gotten-from-almost-dying (twice!) wisdom I’d gained along the way. They were hard-earned lessons that must be shared.

  1. Don’t take anything for granted. Not Clifford the Big Red Dog stuffed animals or clean, cotton sheets or walking, one foot in front of the other. Not steamy, hot showers; your raggedy blue baby blankie; or breathing, as deeply as you want, whenever you want. Not hugging your children, playing catch with your pup or sleeping in any position your body likes. All of it matters.
  2. Embrace the power of simple gestures. A get-well card in the mail, a bouquet of flowers from someone who’d survived his own trauma, or an already prepared meal of chicken fettucine and garlic bread can give life meaning. Return the favor when you can. Or better yet, pay it forward.
  3. Let others in to help you heal. My mom, dad, brother, sister, and children were the caretakers and supports who kept me from falling apart, from completely losing myself. And when I wanted to close myself off from the world that seemed just beyond my reach, visitors—whether my writing group or teaching colleagues or former students—kept me grounded and open enough to attempt optimism. Eventually, because I allowed people to surround me, I became well enough to return to school, where my students turned in to my therapists, whether they knew it or not.
  4. Draw strength from nature and all of your moments with it, whether planting herbs, flowers, and vegetables outside in the spring; having someone take you for a drive just as fall leaves are turning colors; or hiking a path to pick black raspberries in the humidity of July. Watch the sunset from the wicker chair on your front porch every single night, even in the frosty cold of winter, and stargaze from your driveway whenever you can. Nature presents its own healing—its own reason for being.
  5. Life can change, or even end, in a moment. It cannot be controlled. That’s just the way it is. You can try to guide it, making choices or even setting a direction, but most of the time, that will be knocked out of your hands unexpectedly. Sometimes you might get the control back, but other times—in fact, a lot of the time—you just have to wait. And either way, you can only control yourself—no one and nothing else. Life, no matter who’s writing the story, just happens. And you can’t get out of the way or hide or run from it. You just live it, one moment at a time, making your way through, one challenge at a time, attempting to live with courage, accepting each moment gracefully. That’s all you can do.

The Big Picture

According to Dr. James Pennebaker, a pioneer in studying the healing nature of writing, expressing what happened to you through words on a page allows you to organize and understand your experiences and yourself. This, in turn, provides a sense of control, something you probably lacked during the traumatic event(s) that led you to need to heal in the first place. When the writer has given the traumatic experience a structure and meaning, not only are the emotions drawn from the experience more manageable, but the story most likely then has a resolution, or ending, which eases the trauma.

Writing your story could provide the therapy necessary to feel whole again.

I know, because I am no longer a character in that old, sad story, defined by trauma. The process worked for me.

Turns out you really can be the author of your own life story. Why not try it?

Barbara Moran

Q&A with Author Barbara Moran

Barbara Moran is a graphic artist from Topeka, Kansas, who was not diagnosed with autism until she was in her early forties. She has spoken at autism conferences, and her artwork has been exhibited by Visionaries + Voices, at Bryn Mawr’s annual Art Ability show, and at the MIND Institute at the University of California-Davis. Barbara’s art often focuses on personified objects such as locomotives, stoplights, and cathedrals. Barbara shares her home with her companion of forty years, Rooney, a 1934 Monitor Top GE refrigerator. Her memoir, Hello, Stranger: My Life on the Autism Spectrum, will be published in March 2019.

Barbara MoranWhat inspired you to work with Karl Williams and share your story with the world?

I always wanted to write my life story but lacked the skills or patience to do it. When I met Karl, he gave me the opportunity to write a story. Without Karl’s help, there’d be no story. Karl offered to do the interviews and make a story out of them. And working with those original transcripts must have been like trying to unscramble an egg.

What do you want readers to understand about you after they’ve read Hello, Stranger?

Hello StrangerI want to be validated. And I’d like to hear from people who have had similar struggles with sensory issues: I want to hear someone say, “Me, too.” I spent most of my life without knowing anyone with sensory issues and I felt a lot of shame because of people’s expectations of me—which I learned were unrealistic. No one even knew that sensory issues existed, and that caused people to want me to just stop complaining. It was my sensory issues that made me withdraw in the first place. And so I personified objects because they wouldn’t overwhelm me like people often did.

What do you hope readers learn about autism and people with autism?

I want them to imagine what autism can be like, to understand the emotions that drive a lot of autistic behavior. Autistic people can be hard to live with, but the autistic person does want help. It needs to start with feeling better; anything that helps sensory processing can help behavior. And relationship-based social skills training, which is give-and-take, can help the autistic person in being able to be functional. A person shouldn’t have to squash her personality to merely be tolerated. The more welcome she can feel with people, the more she’ll care. People need to communicate clearly basic social rules and limits, but the autistic person needs to have enough flexibility so they aren’t constantly afraid of being in trouble.

How did your life change after you first were diagnosed with autism in your forties?

Having an autism diagnosis answered my question finally: Why was my life so out of synch with everyone else’s?

At Menninger’s, I was told that people choose to be mentally ill. After that I felt shame—like it was my fault. I felt shame most of my life. Being diagnosed with autism was like being forgiven. My problems weren’t character faults; they were legitimate complaints. It was like the Ugly Duckling learning he was a swan. At conferences, I was treated like a poster child—a celebrity—and people lined up to buy my pictures. It was amazing to me that someone from Kansas would get to attend so many conferences and feel welcome.

As you look back on your life, how has your view of your childhood experiences evolved?

My view of my childhood changed for the better because knowing “why” meant I no longer needed to blame anyone or accept blame myself. My parents hadn’t harmed me; my problem was physical.

How has drawing helped you throughout your life?

I have always liked colorful pictures regardless of who produced them. And I’ve always enjoyed producing images myself. My drawing has allowed me to see what I wanted to see.

How do you perceive your autism today? Do you see it primarily as a challenge? Can it be interpreted as a gift in some way?

Autism can bring gifts to some people like Temple Grandin: She has a LIFE. But unless something changes drastically, autism has few real advantages. I’m better off than most. Only a handful of autistic people live on their own and are able to work. Something needs to be done to help those with autism become more functional so they can tolerate life. Being autistic is often painful and lonely. I don’t think medication is the answer. There needs to be more emphasis on nutrition and relationships and sensory integration, which has been proven to work—and the person needs a say in the treatment plan.

Autistic people need to communicate and be listened to even if what they say sounds like crazy talk. If somebody knows she counts, other people’s wishes will matter more to her.

Aimee Ross

Author Post: ‘The Holocaust Lady’

Aimee RossAimee Ross is the author of Permanent Marker: A Memoir, an award-winning high school teacher, and a passionate educator about the horrors and history of the Holocaust. Here, Aimee explains how living and working in a small, rural town in Ohio fuels her desire to teach on that dark period of history.

‘The Holocaust Lady’

I remember her words like it was yesterday.

March 2004, San Francisco, California: the Northern California Forum on Holocaust Education.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum had brought me in as a team member to run one of five classroom sessions, accommodating more than 200 attendees, including survivors. We had just finished a few days of sharing resources and strategies for teaching about the Holocaust, which included finding survivor testimony, when she approached.

“Excuse me, Aimee?”

I turned, smiling, still on the post-workshop adrenaline high that accompanied a job well done, to find a middle-aged face, surrounded by frizzy dark curls, pinched in a frown. The room had cleared except for a few people looking at resources on the periphery.

“You know, you or the museum should really research the area you’re going into a little more,” she said. “I teach at a Jewish day school here in the Bay area, and we have no trouble getting Holocaust survivors in the classroom.”

The harsh fluorescent lights overhead glared back at me from her wire-framed, circular glasses.

How should I respond? I didn’t want to speak on behalf of the Museum, because it wasn’t my place. Plus, I was only trying to help those who might not have the access to survivors that she did.

“Also—” she continued.

I tensed.

“You made it very clear that you are from a small, rural town and that you are not Jewish.”

“Yes,” I said. During the course of the workshop, I’d shared my background with participants, including the fact that I was not Jewish, but just to provide context for my pedagogy.

“What right do you think you have to teach about this then?” she accused.

A Journey of Learning

A tight pain crossed my forehead, and my cheeks flared. I didn’t know what to say. She’d caught me completely off guard, which must have been her goal, because she turned and stomped out of the room then.

Hot tears formed behind my eyes, threatening to spill.

That woman didn’t know me or my journey over the past nine years, searching out any and all chances to learn about the Holocaust. She didn’t know I’d gone on a study trip to Poland and Israel, or that I’d developed my own course on the Holocaust, or that I had been receiving hate mail from deniers for the past seven years. She didn’t know I’d won a national contest through the Museum for a lesson I’d created about pre-War Jewish life in Europe, or that I was preparing to take a second field trip with students to Washington, D.C., specifically to visit the Museum and hear a survivor speak. She didn’t know I’d written and won a grant to bring a Holocaust survivor to my hometown for a community presentation in the next month.

And she had no idea that the more I learned about the Holocaust, the more I felt compelled to teach the time period’s most important lesson: that we are all human beings sharing the same world, no better than anyone else.

‘Humanity Is Reason Enough’

Does someone really have to be Jewish to teach about the Holocaust? Does someone have to be a victim to teach about injustice? No.

Humanity is reason enough, and I have every right to teach about it. Even if I am from a small, rural town in Ohio, and even if I’m not Jewish, which is even more of a reason if you ask me. Because if I don’t teach about it, who will?

Today, fourteen years after that moment of negativity and criticism, I’m proud to say I continued educating other teachers and students about the dangers of disrespect and intolerance. I even earned the nickname “The Holocaust Lady”—at least locally.

I refused to let her words stop me.

Yes, they stung. And clearly, they left a permanent mark.

But I’m leaving one, too—one I know will last a heckuva lot longer.

Salvation on Death Row cover

Author Post: Why I Changed My Mind about the Death Penalty

John Thorngren headshotJohn T. Thorngren, author of Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story, writes about the experiences that caused him to change his thinking about capital punishment and undertake the process of telling the true story of life on Death Row in Texas.

Why I Changed My Mind about the Death Penalty

Although we may be merciful and compassionate in our hearts, there are instances to which we are ignorant—and therefore merciless by omission.

As an example, consider the sufferings of the inhabitants in Country X, of which we have no knowledge. We might have an inkling of their existence but no details on their plight nor means to help them. But closer to home, there are instances to which we are merciless by indifference, such as abortion or the death penalty. Indifference, in these cases, refers to those who have little or no concern about taking another’s life under special circumstances. Such special circumstances are ordained by the state and therefore not in their realm of interests.

And End to Indifference

Is omission worse than indifference? Is abortion worse than the death penalty? These are personal questions best answered by one’s direct experience. My indifference to the death penalty changed in a remarkable incident. When we moved to Shady Shores, Texas, I met a young man headed into the woods behind our house. I commented on his cap that had a cross on it and learned he volunteered to help the homeless in Denton, seven miles from us. He and his wife were renting a small mobile home nearby. Some years later they moved, and we kept up through Christmas cards and e-mail.

One day I received an e-mail from his then-ex-wife that “Jerry” was due for execution in another state for multiple homicides. How could this be? How could a professed Christian commit murder? I later learned that it was not Jerry, per se, but Jerry in an altered state under the influence of drugs. Jerry received a stay of execution while his appeals ground through the slow legal process, the limbo between life and death. They are ongoing. Jerry and I agreed to write his painful story in hopes that it might help others, but shortly into this effort, he realized that such information might endanger his appeals, so we placed the project on hold.

Feeling Called to Act

Salvation on Death Row coverStill, I felt I needed to do something on behalf of all of those on Death Row, for we all have a purpose for our lives and the state should not take a life in revenge. Starting with a fictional heroine, condemned to lethal injection, I would create the great American novel about the injustice of the death penalty. But I needed some authentic background on the actual process. By divine chance, I found an old pen-pal request from Pamela Perillo, who had been on Texas Death Row and was still incarcerated at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, Texas.

To that point, Pam had refused authors wanting to write her biography because they seemed transfixed on the sensational aspects of her life. But she and I discovered that we had a Christian match and a mutual purpose for sharing her story: to release but one person from the chains of drug addiction and subsequent imprisonment. Thus began our seven-year effort to create Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story.

And thus began my walk as a Christian—as a human—no longer mercilessly indifferent to the wrongs of the death penalty.

John T. Thorngren, a Texas writer and graduate of the University of Texas, has enjoyed a myriad of life experiences, working everywhere from basements to boardrooms. He is a songwriter published in Southern Gospel and an author of several patents, technical articles, and a nonfiction book on probability and statistics, in addition to Salvation on Death Row. John and his wife of more than five decades live in Shady Shores, Texas, on Lake Lewisville, where their livestock freely roam the grounds.

Karl Williams

Q&A with Author Karl Williams

Karl Williams is an author and songwriter with a special passion for the self-advocacy movement. After meeting Barbara Moran at a conference years ago, Karl felt compelled to help Barbara share her story with the world, both because of the uniqueness of Barbara and her experiences with autism and also because of the universality of the need to be understood and appreciated.

In March, ahead of Autism Awareness Month, Karl and Barbara will release Hello, Stranger: My Life on the Autism Spectrum. Here’s a look at how the book came to be, as well as Karl’s goals for how the book will affect readers.

What inspired you to work with Barbara Moran and share her story with the world?

Barb is compelling. You can feel an intensity of purpose that has enabled her to survive experiences that could have destroyed who she is. But they did not; she did not allow them to. When we agreed to work together, I was, as a writer, excited. She’d come out of a lifetime of everyone she encountered completely misunderstanding her and trying to change her into someone else. What a story! I was honored to be able to help her tell what had happened to her and how she came through it

How did you and Barbara go about working together?

We started by recording long conversations in person. Once they were transcribed, I took out all my words and went to work with “the material”—what Barb had told me, her own words—to create a coherent whole. But as I worked, I had more questions for her. And so next there were phone calls and more transcription. … We learned to communicate so that she could feel understood and so I could help her tell her story. And along the way, we got to be friends.

What was most challenging and what was most rewarding about working with a neurodiverse person?

Working with anyone requires understanding, reconciling points of view and preferences, and accepting each other’s idiosyncrasies. What was most rewarding about working with Barb was learning how much of what we call preferences and idiosyncrasies are actually neurology. We all have neurological quirks—sensitivities to sights and sounds, a need to do things in a certain order, anxiety, etc. We’re all neurodiverse, of course; it’s just that many (most) of us are what could be called “neurotypical.” Barb, then, is part of a “neurominority”—not inferior, just different. I was privileged to come to understand that more completely.

What aspect of Barbara’s life experience resonates most deeply with you?

Barbara MoranBarb’s ability to retain her sense of self no matter how many people were telling her she had to change. This is just one amazing aspect of her story. From her earliest years, she was told she shouldn’t draw traffic signals, she shouldn’t talk to buildings, she shouldn’t continue to pursue her own extremely creative method of dealing with the isolation life had dealt her. She resisted that pressure and held on to who she is. It cost her emotionally (and in other ways because of the drugs she was given as a child), but she did not lose who she is. And then, at the same time, she was constantly struggling with primary overarching questions: Why am I like I am? Why am I so different from everyone else that they refuse to accept me? And she never allowed that struggle to get the better of her.

Please tell us a bit about the self-advocacy movement and why it’s something you’re passionate about.

Self-advocacy, the struggle of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, is part of the larger social justice movement which seeks to make the world fair for people who have no power because they are poor, because of their gender, or because of their racial or sexual identity. People with disabilities are the most recent ones to join the fray. They too, for the most part, have no power because of social discrimination and, too often, poverty. The first step to achieving social justice is for people to find their voices. And to find one’s voice, a person needs to be with others who share his or her life experiences. Self-advocacy results from people with disabilities getting together, sharing their stories, and through that process finding their voice and the power of speaking out together.

What is the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Hello, Stranger?

I hope that after reading Barb’s story, people will approach every child they work with, every child they meet, with openness and acceptance and respect. Difference is not really difference; it’s just identity. The most sacred thing a child has is his or her uniqueness, his or her sense of self, and that must be honored.

Sasha Kulenovic

Welcome New Author: Sanja Kulenovic

KiCam Projects is delighted to welcome Sanja Kulenovic to our family of authors!

Sanja KulenovicSanja’s book, which will publish in September 2019, tells the story of the Bosnian War through the lens of Sanja’s own family. Having grown up in Bosnia, Sanja was in California on her honeymoon when war broke out in her homeland in 1992. As the country of Yugoslavia broke up, Sanja and her husband, Djeno, found themselves stateless refugees, worried about their family and loved ones who were suffering thousands of miles away.

Sanja’s book includes heartfelt letters sent from her loved ones who lived daily with the horrors and uncertainty of war. Meanwhile, Sanja and Djeno worked to build a life from scratch, forced to take on menial jobs while they waited to hear if they would be granted the right to stay in the United States.

Today, Sanja lives in Southern California, where she works as a financial analyst. She and Djeno are parents to two adult daughters, and all are proud to be both Bosnian and American. Sanja supports the Bosana Foundation, which provides scholarships and other programs for Bosnian students in Bosnia.

Sanja’s book reminds us of the horrors of war and the dangers of division. It’s also an inspiring story of resilience and determination. As Sanja’s daughters told her, “You refused to live like a refugee. You built a wonderful and successful life for yourself and your family.”

We’re proud and excited to publish this book, which puts a personal face on recent world history and encourages all readers to fight through whatever obstacles they might face.

Welcome to the KiCam family, Sanja!

Headshot of Kathleen Cadmus

Q&A with Author Kathleen English Cadmus

When Kathleen English Cadmus found herself sitting across a table from a bounty hunter she was hiring to find her missing daughter, she was shocked by the surreal turns her life had taken.

Headshot of Kathleen CadmusShe’d lost her son Shawn to a tragic accident, endured a divorce from her college sweetheart, and now she was trying—again—to track down Laura, the beloved daughter she had adopted from Korea and who was in flight mode brought on by bipolar disorder.

Like all moms, Kathy’s experience of motherhood is at once unique and universal. Her debut book, Intertwined: A Mother’s Memoir, is a raw but loving tribute to the pain and beauty of motherhood and to the way a mother’s life and her children’s lives are distinct yet inseparable. Here, Kathy describes her writing process and shares what she hopes readers will think, feel, and learn from her memoir.

What inspired you to write your memoir and share your story with the world?

I started out a few years ago wanting to write about my son Shawn’s life and sudden death. I felt there was something there that might help other parents who had lost a child. My daughter, Laura, and I enrolled in two online writing classes at our community college. This led to my enrolling in graduate school and earning my MFA in creative writing five years later. As I became braver and bolder in my writing, and with the help of my writing mentors, I came to understand that Shawn’s life was the backstory to my unique mother-daughter journey. It was the writing and reflecting that made me realize my journey could help others. Writing inspired me to want to share my story.

What was the most challenging part of revisiting the difficult moments in your past?

In terms of the writing process, the most challenging part of revisiting these difficult moments of my past was knowing what to include and what to leave out. Intertwined spans a thirty-year period, which makes using the right words in the right place in the book crucial so that those “difficult moments” are reflected correctly and are conveyed at the time when the reader will most benefit from hearing about them. To help me decide what to take out or what to leave in, I challenged myself throughout the writing process with my mentor, Thomas Larson’s, question: “Does it serve the story?”

In terms of the emotional process of writing memoir, the most challenging part of revisiting the difficult moments was dealing with the pain that comes to the surface so abruptly when pulling up the old memories again, and in addition, processing the change in perspective on those memories that comes with the passage of time.

Was there a therapeutic aspect to your writing process?

Absolutely! And pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction when your thesis is memoir is the best, albeit most expensive, form of psychotherapy available. I would have found it very difficult without the support of a writing community who understood the emotional transformation that most often accompanies the writing of memoir.

How did writing Intertwined affect your relationship with Laura? And with your sons, Pete and Ryan?

Writing Intertwined strengthened my relationship with all of my children. I would consult Pete and Ryan whenever I wrote chapters centered on their brother Shawn. They would provide a different perspective on the events or remember other details that I had forgotten. Sharing those perspectives with them as the adults they now are brought us closer and increased my understanding of the experience of their loss.

Since Laura is ten years younger than Ryan and fifteen years younger than Pete, she has no memories of the years surrounding Shawn’s death. She has read most of my completed memoir and has encouraged me to tell events that help the reader understand the situation, even when those events are painful memories for her. She has clarified events and made suggestions on my writing. It’s not easy being a character in a book! There were sections where I felt I needed to hold back or minimize events, but Laura would encourage me to write more. “It’s your story, Mom!” is what she has repeatedly told me. She is amazing. But Laura is a writer too and is currently completing her own MFA in creative writing. Laura and I share our writing with each other. It is one way to share our thoughts and feelings that is natural for both of us. This has given us better understanding of each other and brought us closer. And, I believe it has made us both better writers and stronger and better humans.

What did you learn about motherhood as you looked back on your life as a parent?

Writing about my mothering involved intense reflection on my own childhood and how I was parented. What stands out most to me now is the awareness of how fortunate I was to have both a mother and a father who trusted me and believed in me. Because of the parenting I received from them, I grew up believing I could do anything I chose to do. But, more importantly, I grew up feeling valued for being me. I believe that is reflected in my parenting of my own children. Writing this memoir made me more aware, sometimes painfully so, of how the joys and traumas of my own childhood shaped how I responded to each of my children’s joys and traumas.

How did your experience as a nurse, especially someone with expertise in mental health, inform your writing about Laura’s bipolar disorder?

As I wrote about Laura and her anxiety, depression, and subsequent diagnosis, I tried to provide a balance between the objective facts and the subjective experience of the emotions that both she and I experienced. Since most of my career has been centered in the mental health arena, I had to be reminded at times that the reader needed more explanation. It was a challenge for me to give the reader information about bipolar disorder without sounding too clinical and have the information still serve the story that needed to be told. I am also aware that many readers have had their own issues with depression or anxiety and bring that experience to their reading of my book. There may be similarities with their experience, but hopefully the reader comes away feeling everyone’s experience is uniquely their own.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of writing and publishing your memoir?

The most fulfilling aspect of this experience has been the effect it has had on my relationship with my daughter, as well as with my sons. I love writing and what it does for me. The cherry on top for me is knowing that my story will give other grieving parents hope and that the short but full life of my son Shawn will help others.

What is the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Intertwined?

Most people who decide to read a memoir do so to get lost in a real-life story, to learn something, and/or to be inspired. I want readers to experience all of this and come away instilled with hope regarding their own human experience, whatever that may be.

Camille Patton

Kudos to Camille and the Little Free Library

Earlier this summer, KiCam Projects was thrilled to donate books to a Little Free Library being established by Camille Patton in Leland, Mississippi.

Camille Patton

Camille Patton and her Little Free Library in Leland, Mississippi

Camille, a rising senior at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, wrote to us to request help in making a dream of hers come to life.

As Camille said, “I have been very fortunate to have a mother who is a teacher who encouraged me to read, and I have always had access to books through my school, nearby libraries, and bookstores. However, I acknowledge that this is not the case for many people.”

She chose to build her Little Free Library in Leland, a rural town in the Mississippi Delta, because it’s her father’s hometown, where her grandparents and extended family still reside.

“My library is located at the main playground in Leland, where many children and teenagers are able to access it,” Camille explained. “While collecting books to put in my Little Free Library, I am trying to represent diverse age groups and authors to capture the attention of more readers. I am conducting book drives in New Orleans and will be taking books to Leland each time we visit. My aunt, who lives there, will refill the library whenever it begins to be depleted. My library is the first of several I will build for the Delta.”

Camille was kind enough to send us a photo of the installation of her Little Free Library, and we could not be more proud to be part of this project.

Young people like Camille are amazing examples of how each of us can change the world, one act of kindness at a time! Kudos, Camille!

Do you know of teens and young people doing extraordinary things? We’ d love to tell their stories! Email us at submissions@kicamprojects.com with details!

Peter Boling Anderson

Welcome New Author: Peter Bowling Anderson

Peter Boling AndersonKiCam Projects is delighted to welcome Peter Bowling Anderson to our family of authors!

Peter’s book, which will publish in September 2019, shares the inspiring and humorous story of his time working for, and becoming friends with, Richard Herrin, a middle-aged man with cerebral palsy. Richard overcame a lifetime of obstacles to earn multiple degrees and become a gifted motivational speaker. Peter worked full-time for Richard for five years, tutoring him, feeding him, dressing him, and taking care of him in every other way.

“I learned many invaluable insights from him, not just about the best ways to care for the physical and emotional needs of someone with CP, but also about perseverance, joy, and the proper perspective on life,” Peter says. “He’d experienced much over the years and possessed a wealth of wisdom. The book is about how limitations should never be placed on someone, either by others or by the individual, simply because of a physical challenge or disorder.”

Peter, who lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, has a master’s degree in communications/writing as well as a master’s in teaching (English, sixth-twelfth grades), and his work has appeared in The Connect MagazineMotherVerse: A Journal of Contemporary MotherhoodGoodtaste International MagazineBecause We Write Magazine, and Ezine Articles.  Peter shares his life with his wife, Leslie; son, Henry; and daughter, Clementine.

Peter’s story is heartfelt, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny in places! We’re absolutely thrilled to bring this book to readers around the world.

Welcome to the family, Peter!