What is the Gist of Your Story? #9
A sound premise and compelling themes are undoubtedly the hallmarks of great writing. In another addition to the SERIES on literary themes and premise, I’d like you to join me in welcoming Laura Dennis. She blogs at The Adaptable (Adopted) Expat Mommy. Connect with her on twitter or email email@example.com.
Laura Dennis was adopted in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, and learned how to be a (sane) person in California. A professionally trained dancer, Laura also worked as sales director for a biotech startup. With two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, Serbia. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote a memoir titled Adopted Reality (available on Amazon).
Laura on her memoir
In a September, 11th memoir unlike any, my psychological adventure follows the ups and downs of bipolar, and examines relationships biological and adopted.
They say not to make more than one big change in your life at a time, but with a break up, a job change, a move across the country, and the separation of my adoptive parents, when I got the opportunity to reunite with my birth family, there was no way I was going to pass it up! Then my beloved uncle died in the Twin Towers and the tension that had been building exploded. While everyone proudly believed I was fulfilling my dream to dance, I insanely thought I was a spy for the evil Illuminati who had unwittingly perpetrated 9/11.
Even while my mind was melting into immobility thanks to a cocktail of paralyzing antipsychotic drugs, I was sure that one day I would write a book about my bipolar breakdown. I knew it would make a great story, and more importantly would shed light on just how fragile the human mind can be, yet how resilient the human spirit truly is. The memoir follows my journey to learn to exist between the highs and lows, ultimately discovering my own Adopted Reality.
The premise of Laura’s story
All too often, adoptees assume they were not wanted by their birth parents, which gives rise to a sense of not belonging—their alienation makes them feel unworthy and they develop the belief that to be loved you have to be perfect. And to be perfect, Laura Dennis consumes copious amounts of caffeine, deprives herself of sleep, starves her already slender body, and pushes herself to the limit. As if the onslaught on her body isn’t enough, she constantly berates herself for being lazy and stupid. But ultimately, even Miss Perfect has to realize that she just can’t do the impossible anymore.
My review of her book
Adopted Reality has been described as a psychological thriller because of the author’s psychotic episode believing she was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and, thus, had caused her uncle Tom’s death. But this memoir is really about the capricious values and beliefs that underpin an adoptee’s fragile sense of self. Read more ...
The themes & sub-themes that drive Laura’s story
A major theme of Adopted Reality is based on something my therapist constantly reminded me during my recovery: “Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.” In the recently published 2nd edition of my memoir, I tried to make this idea resonate on a deeper level, showing just how far-reaching his advice truly is.
The duality of life experiences applies in varying degrees to my bipolar nature, Catholic faith, perfectionism, and even the ability to reinvent oneself. All of those things can work to one’s great advantage, but taken too far, can lead to one’s ultimate downfall. Showing both sides of the coin and shades of gray worked well as a way to bring out sub-themes, including:
- The difficulty of mental health diagnosis; mental wellness being more of an art than a science.
- Adoption as a complex, fraught institution. It’s not the “perfect solution” that it was made out to be in the past.
- The strictness of organized religion can provide structure, but blind adherence to edicts that don’t make personal sense can lead to poor decision-making.
- The nature of success... What does success really mean? What about happiness and contentment?
Remember, effective book publicity relies on strong promotional messages, which are extracted from the themes contained in your writing that, collectively, make up the premise of the story.
Promotional opportunities for Adopted Reality
Mental wellness and education about bipolar disorder
This area is one that I want to work to develop further. It can be tricky, since I’m not a therapist, “merely” a recovering patient. I actually don’t think of myself as a recovering patient, even though that is technically what I am. I am a person, who went crazy for a short period of time. Now my craziness is within what I consider to be my range-of-normal.
Nevertheless, I’ve made some great connections with other writers who do have a therapy background or are life coaches (like you, Belinda). These relationships have led me to deeper conversations about psychology and emotional healing, topics which are of interest to a general audience.
Another area of social media marketing is the online adoption community who are working for social and reproductive justice. For example, many adoptees are barred in their states from having access to their Original Birth Certificates, meaning that they sometimes can’t get U.S. citizenship and U.S. passports.
On a micro level, I’ve found wonderful friendships connecting with adult adoptees, specifically a group of compassionate and active women bloggers, called The Lost Daughters.
Of course, there is the memoir-writer community, an open-minded, empathetic and smart bunch who have supported my writing journey and provided great insight into the meaning of memoir. It was actually fellow memoir writers that encouraged me to dig deep for this 2nd Edition of Adopted Reality, to draw more conclusions, to share fully about how I actually went about the daunting task of recovery. With this 2nd edition, I wanted to show that in spite of my mental breakdown and everything that transpired leading up to it ... I came back. I didn’t end up medicated and institutionalized. I survived and am healing.
It’s important to share with readers the “how” of maintaining sanity and finding contentment in that. Today, I have a marriage, a job, a family. I have found my own definition of normal, and discovered my own personal “adopted reality.”
Join me as I discuss the need for compelling themes and a sound premise with published and newbie authors over the next few months. If you want to participate as a guest blogger in this series, please do not hesitate to contact me for details. You can also participate by leaving a comment for Laura below.