May 2020 Newsletter

May 2020 Newsy Letter  From Karen DeBonisA quarterly update on my writing journey, with news from my world. 
Quick facts about my memoir:The new working title is Agreeable Mom.The new subtitle, subject to change at a moment’s notice, is How People-pleasing Jeopardized My Son. The tagline: People-pleasing is a liability when your child is sick. I’m not proud of that truth, but I’m proud of having the guts to tell the story.Here’s my pitch (in case any agents are “listening”):  When my eight-year-old son developed an avalanche of unusual behaviors, my motherly instinct screamed something’s wrong with Matthew! But my loving husband and trusted pediatrician dismissed my concerns, and for two years, unaccustomed to creating conflict, I allowed my voice to be silenced. Ultimately, my love for Matthew broke through my paralysis, and I dragged him to myriad specialists to solve his insidious deterioration. But I feared I was too late, that my people-pleasing had cost my child his life. Finally, at eleven, Matthew received a horrifying, unimaginable diagnosis. And it would be twenty years before I’d know if my family could fully recover from the damage of my toxic agreeability. 

 Would YOU read this book?
These uncertain times.
I chose not to send a Newsy Letter last quarter, as it felt disrespectful, somehow, with all the illness and death and uncertainty of COVID-19. I live in upstate New York, three hours north of the epicenter. My community was not overrun with cases, but my friend, who died, was one case too many. Although there are still numerous unknowns and multiple fears, we are all trying to reassemble our lives in the midst of uncertainty. Regardless of how or if we’ve been personally affected by the virus, we are attempting to move forward. (Did you catch my blog about the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel?) In that spirit, I share some news, my words, perhaps a giggle and an insight, and especially my gratitude to you for hitching a ride on my journey. 

Memoir update
In February, I queried my first batch of five literary agents and received a form rejection letter from one within twenty-four hours. “Plan on querying 100 agents,” my writing tribe has warned me. So how do I take the sting out of this process? I wondered. It came to me in an instant: When life gives you thorns, make roses. So I printed out my rejection email and voila–the beginning of a bouquet. 

As of this writing, I’ve queried twenty-eight agents (holy moly–I’m a quarter of the way to 100!) and received eight rejections, giving me a beautiful bunch of roses. Most agents won’t reply unless they’re interested in your pitch, so the crickets from those queries add some background audio to the flower garden.

In the meantime, the focus of my writing has come full circle to “people-pleasing.” Years ago, I felt this was the universal theme of my book, and it morphed and mutated with every revision until it settled back into its own skin.

 Now that I’ve clarified my focus, a weird thing is happening. People now refer to me as “strong.” One Twitter follower said I inspired her, “especially the way you can so fearlessly speak about the issues you are most passionate about.” She asked me how I “manage to be so open, authentic, and proactive.” Who, me? I thought. But I realized, yes me. All my digging into my soul to find my truth, writing about it honestly, all my risks to be my authentic self are paying off. I can feel the change deep inside, at the core of who I am. I have a loooong way to go, but I’m happy to be moving forward.

I’ve also expanded my work to include teaching! (Although I consider it more facilitation when I’m working with adults.) You may not know that I have a master’s degree and a long career in community health education. Using those skills, I created a program called Wipe Your Feet Before You Step All Over Me: Overcoming People-pleasing, which I piloted at a local community college in February. The feedback was phenomenal: More classes! Longer classes! An advanced class! The more I open up about my struggles with people-pleasing, the more I find others thirsty to make their own changes. So I’m committed to teaching additional classes– live or virtual– this fall. If you’d like to schedule a virtual class at your local adult education venue, let me know! You can reply to this email, or go to my contact page on my website. 

A totally useless and possibly embarrassing fact about me:
When I was growing up, this big bulletin board hung on the wall behind our kitchen table. When one of us six kids had a birthday, my parents removed all the thumbtacked school notices, church schedules, and grocery store flyers, and decorated the cork tiles in honor of the birthday boy or girl. At thirteen, I must have wanted control of the design decisions, as I recognize my handwriting and artwork. It was November of my final year–eighth grade–in my small Catholic school. The next year, I left that cocoon and, after a short unhappy stint at all-girls school, transferred to a humongous public high school. Those were four tough years. But in this picture, before teenage angst set in, I was still innocent, still confident and even a little sassy. That girl disappeared for decades, but her confidence and sass never left me and she’s finally making a come-back. 
WRITING UPDATES If you choose to read only one of the links below, I recommend  The Guts to Tell My Story in Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. It’s about being told, “I hate you,” because of my story. It was a turning point for me–turning me not away from telling, but toward my truth. I was asked to write quarterly posts as an emerging writer on the award-winning Writers in the Storm blog! I’d received their informative and inspiring emails for a while, and I guess I wrote some halfway intelligent comments, as that’s how they “discovered” me. If you’re a writer, check them out! In January, I wrote about writer karma, and in April, I wrote about handling rejection, featuring my query letter rejection roses.  Also in January, I had an essay in AARP’s Disrupt Aging newsletter. In February, I read this essay on the Writing Class Radio podcast, a story that illustrates how the weak are stronger than the strong.  Not sure what that means? Check it out!

Books that inform my writing.
This memoir is about a therapist and her therapist. It’s funny, moving, and insightful, even for a seasoned psychotherapy participant like myself. If you’ve ever been curious about what happens behind those closed doors, you’ll enjoy this read. I hope you’ll support your local indie bookstore and ask them to order both of these books for you.

This book is about neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt after an injury, which happens much more than previously believed. It’s a little dry and academic in parts, but it still held many insights for me into my son’s journey with his tumor-injured brain.


“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.” 
― Adam Grant, author and organizational psychologist

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