Literary Influences for From My Mother

I did a lot of reading in the three years I was writing and revising From My Mother.

Did you know I taught AP Language and Composition for six years? I love reading non-fiction books….

These books are some of the key influences of how I crafted my writing style and themes.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lax is a wonderful journalist exploration of the cross over between human relationships and scientific progress. This book explores how the pursuit of prolonging lives interacts with human nature and real people. This book is well written, engaging, and extensive. Perhaps there are some facts unnecessary to many readers, but this is a highly useful case study on the effects on an entire family of the cost and benefits of scientific progress. Plus, I love the cover. It was a cover I referenced when talking to my publisher about what I wanted for the cover of From My Mother.

Notice the human cells on Skloot’s book? I wanted my cover to reference DNA, but feel personal and connected, so it has a DNA helix adult color page artwork cover. 🙂

I love the way From My Mother looks!

Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs was a powerful read for me. I’d seen Mattie Stepanek on Oprah as a child with muscular dystrophy. He was wise, kind, and a poet with a terminal disease. This book is his mother’s reflections of their life as a family. I cried many times in this book. It touched my heart and I hope to be able to do what Jeni Stepanek did for me in helping me heal for other readers with From My Mother!

Riding the Bus with My Sister is written by an experienced and talented writer, Rachel Simon. In fact, Simon did such a good job with this book, that Rosie O’Donnell stars in a movie about it. Riding the Bus with My Sister is an inspiring read for a fellow typical sibling of a loved one with a disability. Rachel Simon serves as an inspiration for me in that she is able to use her gifts and talents to not only interact well with her sister Beth, but also to inspire and inform others with her honest true story. Having the ability to read and write when my brother did not was sometimes a complicated feeling. Some of the guilt Rachel Simon implicitly reveals is similar to what I have felt. I lived life at a different pace than my brother, as Rachel Simon does with her sister, Beth. It can be hard to slow down and spend time with our family members, but there is such reward in it. Rachel Simon is a talented writer who not only tells an honest, heartfelt story I can relate to with my family, but she is amazing at using sensory detail and organization to draw interest and meaning through the narrative.

Moonrise and Worth the Ride are written by authors in families affected by muscular dystrophy. Both are worth the read for those in the community. I read these books to see what type of personal narratives there were about muscular dystrophy already. I decided in reading that I wanted a book that was friendly, down to earth, and avoided technical language when it could. I wanted a book that revealed life in a family with muscular dystrophy to a typical reader. Relationships had to be the key to the reading for the story to touch hearts. And like these books, that is what I aimed for.

The Empathy Exams is a series of essays well worth picking up. I needed to read about human emotion, expression, and how that mixes with the medical world. It is heavy reading, and best done in chunks, but essays like “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” can give a pretty eye opening view of what others might feel.  I believe with all my heart that empathy is important to any job with human interaction. I would love to see more nurses or pre-health students pick this up and consider the human perspective in disease and treatment. I don’t think I know what my mother felt as a woman with a degenerative disease, but this was the type of book I wanted to read to not short change her experience with clichéd optimism or fake smiles.

Reading these books I made three goals for From My Mother:

  • It had to be real – An honest connection of real people driven by the relationship of the reader to the characters
  • It had to be honest – There are painful moments I thought about leaving out, but I don’t want to shortchange the reality of what an incurable progressive disease means
  • It had to be uplifting – Terminal diseases can suck, but life doesn’t have to be long to be well lived. My mother and brother are gone, but their legacy lives in me, and I am so grateful I got to share in their lives. Above all that’s the main message – that the normal standards of what is good and what is bad, what is a blessing and what isn’t, sometimes, are wrong. My mother was the strongest woman I’ll ever know and she died from weakening muscles. There is sadness in that, but there is a great beauty of human resilience there too. You’ll want to read about it.

My mother is the heroine of the story. Let her inspire you.


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