Eight weeks ago, my book Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor was released. Since then, I have been sprinting and huffing up a new trail, a trail I have never walked before.
Do you know how to publish a book? Do you know how to do a good TV interview? Neither did I, but I learned fast, basically out of desperation. I got myself thrown into the deep end of the public relations pool. As of now, I have recorded nine podcasts, four newspaper interviews, five radio, and two regional TV spots. Each of these happened in the past six weeks, and each of these opportunities slightly terrified me.
Most recently, I appeared on Fox 32 in Chicago. This was a huge opportunity, in the third largest American TV market. At the appointed time, made up and well-coiffed, (thanks Michelle!) I dialed in. My face popped up at the top of the screen and I watched the meteorologist discuss the rain.
“We see you,” said the anonymous chat box. “We will do a sound check at the next break."
“OK” I typed into the void. I learned that the sun would be out tomorrow in Chicago.
A few more minutes later, a voice came on, “Hello Dr. Deguire. Sound check!”
“Hello!” I piped, to no response at all.
Suddenly, the camera was on me and the interview began. I felt out of my body, which seemed actually true, with my body in my Pennsylvania kitchen while my face magically appeared in Chicago. I talked about the fire, resilience, and the relevance of my story to 2020. The interview felt like a blink of an eye. (Watch it here.)
“Best one yet!” texted my friend Celeste, when it was over.
“Really? I hardly remember it. What was good about it?”
“You worked the title of the book into your answers. You were clear, concise, and said fewer “ums”.
“Oh, great. Great to know. I have no idea what even constitutes a good interview. I’m just answering questions as best I can." (Turns out that I. . . um. . . say a lot of “ums.”)
As my brushes with fame continue, every day brings a surprise. I have heard from friends of my brother, friends of my father, my mother’s cousins. One day I received a 3-page letter from an anonymous former patient of my mother. And I am hearing from strangers all over the country.
I have had numerous emails from other burned survivors, attesting to the pain that we have all endured. “Your book was like reading my life. Everything, the pain, the bandage changes, the bullying.”
Others have reached out to me. “I had an alligator mother too.”
“My father killed himself when I was five.”
Here is what I feared in releasing my book: judgment, scorn, rejection. It is scary to write a memoir, particularly a genuine one. It is scary to clearly lay out ones fault’s, wounds, and struggles. It’s scary to be honest about one’s family, knowing that others might find that honesty disloyal. It’s scary to be real in this world of fake news. Seriously, take a breath and imagine that level of vulnerability for yourself.
Here is what happened instead of the feared judgment: bonding. I have received letter after letter, and text after text, affirming deep human connection.
“Oh yes, that happened to me too. Thank you for writing it. It’s the same for me.”
“You wrote what I felt all my life. Thank you for putting it into words.”
“Thank you for bravely telling it like it is.”
Has there been criticism? A little. But mostly, there has been an outpouring of human connection, an appreciation for honest discussion of life’s vicissitudes and the grit it takes to survive.
This was my hope for the book. I think the world hungers for authentic discussion of how hard life can be, and the courage it sometimes takes to survive. Social media does us no favors, with endless posts of people implying perfection, bikini thin in their BMWs, with their three smiling perfect children. It is hard to have real conversations these days. But having real conversations is how we heal, through honest sharing about who we are and what we have been through.
Things are going well. Still, I have been tired.
“I’m so tired,” I complained, on the phone to my daughter.
My daughter Anna is pretty darn tired herself, working hard in her graduate program. But she is 21 and not 57, so she has more energy. In that moment, she also had more perspective.
“Mom, imagine if Flashback Girl came out, and… nobody liked it. Imagine if people were just being kind and saying, ‘How nice that you wrote your little book.’ Think how devastated you would have been if it had gone that way. Instead, you are getting all these interviews, and everyone is excited about the book. It’s great!”
So that’s my update from the trail. I am busy, the book is doing well, and starting to have the impact I hoped it would (and I’m a little tired). My dream now is for the book to find a bigger and wider audience. So, if anyone out there is friends with Oprah Winfrey (or should I say, @Oprah), please let me know.
That’s my dream for Flashback Girl. I think she would kick ass on Oprah.
Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is earning rave reviews and is