the story behind the stories: ‘uncomfortably numb’ & ‘mr. clark’s big band’

Women Writers TBR pile

In the first scene in my recently-released medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, I am interviewing Jamie Clark, the music director of the middle school jazz band I’m planning to shadow during the 2012-2013 school year to witness how Clark helps his students through mourning the sudden death of a band member. The year I spend with Clark and his student musicians is the subject of my 2017 book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.

As I’m speaking with Clark, I experience what I will later realize is the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. It will take two years before I’m officially diagnosed with the incurable autoimmune disease, and another three to see the band book through to publication.

The time line covered in my 2020 memoir Uncomfortably Numb starts with that August 2012 interview and ends with the launch of Mr. Clark’s Big Band. Pretty meta.

The inextricable link between the two books is detailed in a piece published on the website Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books. The website is also featuring my book this month as a recommended read.

Image credit: Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books.

june 1: free webinar on ‘narrative medicine and the art of the medical memoir’

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I’ll be joining award-winning author, Bay Path University writer-in-residence and faculty member, the wonderful Suzanne Strempek Shea on June 1 for a free webinar where we’ll discuss “Narrative Medicine and the Art of the Medical Memoir.”

Hosted by Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction program, the one-hour webinar, from 1-2 p.m., is open to the public. Register here.

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Strempek Shea is the author of many books including Songs from a Lead-Lined Room: Notes — High and Low — From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation, a memoir writer Anita Shreve called, “one of those books that changes your life forever.”

Writer Michael Carlton said in Yankee Magazine, Songs from a Lead-Lined Room “is one of the most moving and important books ever written about the extraordinary pressures the disease places not only on the victim, but on family and friends as well.”

Strempek Shea and I worked together at the Springfield, MA daily newspaper, The Republican, and she has written blurbs for a number of my books. It was our connection that resulted in my attending and graduating from the Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, which she was instrumental in creating.

Please join us for a warm conversation between friends about the craft of writing about the innately personal topics of illness and medicine.

Image credits: Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, Amazon.

book party chatting across the pond

Screenshot 2020-03-20 14.01.18UK Author Madeline Dyer and her Book Party Chat Twitter page hosted me for an hour-long discussion about writing, about memoir, about researching, and about work that inspired me as I wrote Uncomfortably Numb.

We discussed how long it took to write the memoir, what it was like to write such raw and personal material, as well as what projects I’m working on next … to which I would only say that it’s something in the thriller/fiction genre and will be set in Springfield, MA where I used to work as a newspaper reporter. It’s still in its infancy/planning stages.Screenshot 2020-03-20 14.05.26

Thank you Madeline and the Book Party Chat team for taking the time to speak with me about my work and about the craft of writing.

 

publishing news: memoir coming in spring 2020

August 2019 book promo

The memoir on which I’ve been working for several years, Uncomfortably Numb, is being published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in the spring of 2020.

While chronicling the onset of symptoms that ultimately led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Uncomfortably Numb tells the story of not only finding an uneasy peace with the permanent uncertainty of living with a chronic illness, but also of coping with the premature death of one’s mother and the ensuing collateral emotional damage.

Here’s the Publishers Marketplace announcement of the deal:

August 2019 Publish announcement

Image credits: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Publishers Marketplace.

 

writers’ day panel at BPU talks current events & nonfiction

bay path writers day 2017CBay Path University played host to its 16th Writers’ Day this past weekend, as scribes talked about how to effectively read one’s work aloud in front of a crowd (Charles Coe, All Sins Forgiven poet and author extraordinaire!) and how to turn family documents, handwritten letters, and memories into an intergenerational memoir (the fabulous Patricia Reis, Motherlines author).

bay path writers day 2017BThe final panel was packed with tales from three writers–Kinship of Clover’s Ellen Meeropol, This is How It Begins’ Joan Dempsey, and yours truly (see above photos)–who discussed how we used events in the world and in our own lives to inspire our writing, as well as how we folded current events into existing narratives on which we were working. My presentation focused on the real life events in my town of Southborough that inspired Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I worked events such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing into my book about a middle school jazz band.

Thank you to author and educator Suzanne Strempek Shea for putting these panels together and for affording us the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about one of our favorite subjects: writing.

Image credits: Suzanne Strempek SheaSuzanne Strempek Shea via the Bay Path University MFA Program. 

celebrating bay path university’s mfa program, graduation

bpu_mfa_readings_067I was honored to join fellow 2017 graduates of Bay Path University’s creative nonfiction MFA program this spring in the Hatch Library and to read aloud from my thesis, Uncomfortably Numb.

The rapidly growing MFA program, in which I enrolled in the fall of 2014, is staffed by a number of writers and editors with real-world experience who provided support and encouragement to the graduate students, something for which I remain grateful.

Among the faculty members whose guidance had a powerful, personal impact on me and my writing: Anthony D’Aries, Yankee Magazine’s Mel Allen, Susan Ito, and Adam Braver.

bpu_mfa_readings_063.jpgD’Aries, who will become the coordinator of Western Connecticut State University MFA program this fall, introduced me at the MFA event with generous and gracious remarks. (Photo right.) D’Aries offered valuable feedback as I worked on Mr. Clark’s Big Band — published in May 2017 — and workshopped large swaths of the narrative nonfiction work in his classes.

Meanwhile, Braver, my thesis adviser, was instrumental in helping me sculpt and develop my medical memoir into a richer and more reflective work. I am currently developing the memoir.

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After completing the creative nonfiction program, I was more than happy to share my thoughts about it for the Bay Path MFA program’s website, where a number of my classmates also weighed in on their experiences.

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Image credits: Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction program.