By Karen DeBonis
For years, I wondered how it would feel to know my memoir sat on a bookstore shelf or, even better, in a reader’s hands. I could name the expected emotions—excited, proud, content—but being a published author was so foreign to my previous life experiences, I couldn’t envision how those feelings might manifest themselves in my body or what thoughts they might generate.
And I could also picture myself signing copies, engaged in conversation at a book reading, giving a presentation on stage. The enigma was imagining myself going about my everyday activities like eating breakfast, weeding the garden, or watching TV, my published author status of little relevance.
What would it be like to fully inhabit the body of a published author? It’s a question you can’t answer until you can.
I started writing my memoir in 1999, never having written much of anything before. In January 2020, thinking my manuscript was ready (it wasn’t), I began querying agents. I knew the ghosting and rejections would soon follow. I knew it would be disheartening. So when I received my first rejection email, I printed it on bright coral paper and made an origami rose. As I had hoped, it lessened the sting.
Over the next two years, my rose garden grew so plentiful, I didn’t have a vase large enough to hold them, so I hung the blooms on a chain. Finally, after querying 85 agents, I launched Plan B—submitting to small presses—and signed a contract with Apprentice House Press early in 2022. Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived was released in May 2023.
In all those months and years of the “before times,” there was so much I didn’t understand about the “after times.” Now that I’ve lived in the after times for a whopping 2 months, there are other surprises I didn’t anticipate:
Ecstatic even. I’d do cartwheels if I could to celebrate the end of my long journey. The past seven years of writing full-time was less acutely painful than birthing my two sons but nine times longer, so I’d say it was worse. In the final three months leading up to my book launch, I felt like a stack of encyclopedias—the print kind, not Wikipedia—sat on my chest. I even turned to Xanax, which, on a good day, lifted volumes D through Z. Now that the pressure is gone, maybe I can manage a somersault or at least roll around on the floor in glee.
The cloud of post-publishing depression, which several of my author friends have experienced, has not yet spit on my parade. In the throes of my encyclopedia-weighted years, I yearned for the mythical days of moping around the house, lying in bed for hours, or joylessly binge-watching Netflix. It sounded so…easy (as long as I could avoid the hopelessness and despair that accompanies true depression). But so far, my state of elation (see “I’m glad it’s over” above)) has kept the blues at bay.
I suspected I’d be a one-book author, and I’m still leaning in that direction. I doubt many fiction writers quit after one book, regardless of its success or lack thereof, but memoirists—think Tara Westover of Educated fame—are more likely to walk away from their authorial lives.
Why? In my case, I’d never intended to be a writer. Then life happened and I knew the story was meant to be told. I studied my craft and the world of book publishing, put in the time, failed often, and finally landed a book contract. As long as I don’t have another story to tell, I won’t need to write another book. (If you happen to be an agent who likes what I have to say, however, let’s talk.)
From the first day I picked up a pencil and yellow legal pad to scratch out my motherhood survival story, I believed others would learn from my experience. That why hasn’t changed. But I didn’t realize how much I would learn. Seeing my flaws splayed out on paper and screen meant I couldn’t hide any longer. I had to own my Achilles heel—people-pleasing—and learn to overcome it once and for all. I had to grow. And I did.
Trust me, I’m as surprised as you. In fact, I enjoy it so much, I need bullet points to explain it.
But for me, writing is laborious and rarely pleasurable (the exception being flash pieces). On the other hand, designing my bookmarks, t-shirt, pull-up banner, and bookplates never felt like work. I could wake up early and stay up late doing those projects without regret. Even better—brainstorming creative ideas, like this freebie I’ll hand out at book festivals. It’s been a blast.
I discovered this about myself as a parent through the process of writing my memoir. I learned this about myself as a writer through the process of publishing my book. I thought I was weak. I’ve learned I am strong.
I have a saying—“I’m open to the possibility”—and that is what I advise in the writing and book publishing journey. You just never know where this trip will take you, but I guarantee you will grow, and isn’t that what life is about?
Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, an entangled mix told in her debut memoir Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived, released by Apprentice House Press in May of 2023. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, HuffPost, The Insider, AARP, and numerous literary journals. A happy empty-nester, Karen lives in upstate New York with her husband of forty years. You can see more of her work at www.karendebonis.com.
"Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" is available where books are sold.
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