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Author Q&A: Brandi Rarus Answers Questions about Finding Zoe

adoption memoir by brandi rarus

What was the social worker’s take on this story? What is the relationship like between birth mom and birth dad today? How did you decide how much of your daughter’s story to share?

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We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Brandi Rarus’ memoir, Finding Zoe,  and today we have the author herself answering questions our book group put to her.

Book Tourist: I wonder if you considered not sharing the explicit details of Zoe’s backstory with the reader? As an adoptive mother, adoption educator, and parent coach, knowing the explicit details of your daughter’s story bothered me. I believe our kids’ stories are theirs, and it is our job as parents to hold their stories sacred. In other words their stories are theirs to share, when and how they wish, as they understand them. How do you feel Zoe might react to her full story being shared when she is older?

Brandi Rarus: On sharing explicit details of Zoe’s background:  I appreciate that comment and do understand the concept that our children’s stories are theirs to share. Finding Zoe was written from the perspective that her journey of arriving into our home was nothing less than “perfection” — because the chances of a deaf child finding deaf parents the way Zoe found us were so slim.  Her story was not traumatic, but rather a story of celebration and I wanted to write to that. There is no one size fits all, what felt right for me and Zoe may not be right for another adoptive child. How Zoe may react to her story being shared when she is older — that I do not know — but I wrote it for her so she would know how much she was loved and wanted by everyone who cared for her. I would hope that she would embrace it as she has embraced everything in her life today. If she does have concerns later on I trust that we will work through them together and that she will understand I had her best intentions at heart.

Was social worker Marlys interviewed for your book? I didn’t notice her in your acknowledgements.

No,  Marlys was not interviewed. We tried on several occasions to reach out to her to ask — and had everyone sign confidentiality waivers so that she would not be breaching confidentiality if she spoke with us, as we thought she may have concerns with speaking publicly on an issue that requires confidentiality.  She never did respond to us, so we wrote the book based on the feedback and perceptions of the characters who were interviewed. Marlys was Jess’s saving grace during her entire pregnancy.  BJ did not feel she was supportive. We tried to capture these perspectives.

Have BJ and/or Jess learned to sign?

No, BJ and Jess have not learned to sign.  I would love them to do that, as that is really important in having a relationship with Zoe.  However, those who learn to sign need to be in environments where it is used frequently so they would have to find other deaf people in their areas to practice with and communicate with. Neither of them live in an area where there is access to a large deaf community.

How did BJ and Jess respond to learning each other’s thoughts and fears during that time? Was reading your book conciliatory for them? (Not in a romantic way, but in a coexisting way.)

I believe Jess and BJ have made peace with each other and found forgiveness because of the very meaningful experiences they both had from interviews for the book. They  met up and talked about what happened, as they are both now at an age where they are mature enough to listen to the other and understand the others’ point of view. Their two sets of parents got involved so quickly when Jess found out she was pregnant that they really never did have a chance to work through this themselves.

The one thing I know for sure is Finding Zoe was therapeutic for everyone involved because they felt like they were “heard.”  We tried very hard to write their stories from their points of view and humanize them. They are all really, really good people!!

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Lori: Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each others’ blogs, and to Brandi for entertaining our questions. Find Brandi at www.brandirarus.com.

In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Finding Zoe.

Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Judy of JudyMMiller.com
Kim of KimCourt.com
Lesli of AskTheAdoptee.com

Readers Discuss the Adoption Memoir Finding Zoe

adoption memoir by brandi rarusBut what about supporting the birth father when he indicates an interest in parenting? Why didn’t we hear from the social worker involved? What about a sense of destiny — a meant-to-be-ness — in an adoption scenario?

These are just a few of the questions posed by virtual book club readers who are sharing thoughts today about Brandi Rarus’ brand new memoir.  Finding Zoe combines Deaf Culture and the adoption of her daughter, Zoe, who lived in four homes in her first eight months of life.  Even if you aren’t part of the tour and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what readers are saying — you might find that Finding Zoe is one you want to put on your gift list or wishlist.

Via the links below, you’ll get to be a fly on the wall as readers answer questions put to each other in our virtual book club. In a day or two we’ll hear from the author herself as Brandi Rarus responds to questions we posed to her about sharing her daughter’s story, the status of openness between Zoe’s birth parents 10 years in, and the role of the social worker in her story.

See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.

My stop on the Finding Zoe book tour

I enjoyed reading about how Brandi, who became deaf at age 6 due to spinal meningitis, moved between two worlds as a child and as a young adult. Early on, she was a deaf person in a hearing world. She’d already developed speaking skills prior to losing her hearing, and proved adept at lip reading and at being understood with speech. She accepted her new reality and continued to function well despite losing her sense of hearing.

As she grew up, she moved into another world, the one of Deaf Culture.  She’d found her peeps, those who shared her experience of being deaf. Yet she found that there was quite a split between the two worlds. Some could be militant about how deaf people should relate to the world: (a) the deaf should do their best to fit in with hearing people by lip-reading and learning so speak (oralists), OR (b) the deaf must learn sign language to communicate with other sign language speakers (manualists).

The book gives a history of the large chasm between the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, who advocated for oralism, and the likes of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who was a proponent of  manualism.

Brandi took these Either/Or worlds and became a bridge, a Both/And, between oralism and manualism.

Later, she married deaf activist Tim Rarus and they had three hearing sons. But Brandi had felt all her life that she would one day have a daughter. The realness of this would-be daughter was almost palpable to Brandi. As decades passed, that dream of a daughter looked more and more unlikely to come true.

But we know Brandi eventually does become mom to a daughter, and Zoe does get a permanent home. The second half of the memoir tells of the meandering paths Brandi’s and Zoe’s lives took separately to eventually intersect and inertwine. Viewpoints of both birth parents are included.

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Two questions from the book group and my responses:

Was anyone else curious why the birth father, BJ, wasn’t given more support when he clearly wanted to parent his daughter? It seemed like the Christian agency and the agency representative Marlys had an agenda and the biological father and his parents were not part of their plan.

The book states that “BJ believed that his child belonged with him,” and from the telling it does seem that the agency was more intent on the outcome than on the integrity of the process of this adoption (perhaps that’s because the agency was advocating for and abiding by the wishes of the placing mom, its client, but who knows).

BJ, who had been involved during the pregnancy, wasn’t told that his his baby had been born. Social worker Marlys later said when breaking the news to the first adopting parents that BJ was interested in parenting: “His response is fairly typical, but they [birth fathers] usually come around” — meaning that BJ would probably end up relinquishing.

BJ, already nervous about parenting a child solo, was dealt a final blow with the news that his baby probably had special needs. The social worker came to his house and told him that “he couldn’t possibly earn enough money to provide for Celine [later Zoe] because there wasn’t enough money to be made in landscaping.” BJ did have the support of his parents for whatever he decided.

So yes, I do think that the agency, through the social worker, acted with perceived omniscience, as if she knew what was best for all involved.

Really, though, who among us has an omniscient point of view? Even the people who live with the consequences of a decision (unlike the social worker, who will walk away from it) have a hard time grappling with possible and desired outcomes.

What are your thoughts on “meant to be” in adoption – a sense of destiny? Do you think it makes a difference how this feels in different parts of the triad? Explain.

Many adoption bloggers addressed this topic two years ago when the New York Times published an article called “Adoption, Destiny and Magical Thinking.” I made the point that that there’s a flip side to saying a child is meant for you, and that flip side is that the child was meant to lose his/her original parents. I closed with this:

I don’t believe my children were destined to be mine. But they ARE mine ( I say that by way of claiming rather than owning). I don’t believe they were destined to be separated from their birth families. But they WERE. I don’t believe that this is the ONLY way things could have turned out, with us as their parents and them as sister and brother. Yet they DID.

And yet, I can see how Brandi would come to the conclusion that she and her husband were highly qualified to parent Zoe. Brandi says about the time infant Zoe was in limbo,

…a deaf infant could be severely slowed down in acquiring language unless early and effective measures are taken — unless she is given sign language… [She needs] parents who know how to address her and who use dialogue and language that advance her mind.

and

…it is language, rather than what kind of language, that nurtures not only linguistic competence but also intellectual competence.

I bet anyone reading here would go to great lengths to avoid the withholding of language to a hearing child. I can understand how Brandi would want to make sure that the window of language acquisition for baby Zoe didn’t begin to close before help arrived in the form that would best serve Zoe.

As for the question about destiny and different parts of the triad, as I said  about the NYT article:

Those on the Win side of an adoption are more likely to recognized destiny’s hand than those who feel they were on the Loss side.

Anecdotally, it seems more likely for adoptive parents to express a sense of destiny about the path that brought their children to them than for birth parents and adoptees to express a sense of destiny for their paths.

What do you think about adoption and destiny?

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!

Lori of LavenderLuz.com (see above)
Judy of JudyMMiller.com
Kim of KimCourt.com
Lesli of AskTheAdoptee.com

Thanks for following along on our book tour, and be sure to come back later this week for Brandi’s responses to our questions.

AdoptLit Book Tour Signup: Finding Zoe

You already know this is the place to participate in adoption and infertility-themed virtual book club discussions. But with this latest option — a book released into the world just today — we’re adding in a twist.

Adoption Meets Deaf Community

adoption memoir by brandi rarusYou may think you’ve explored all facets of adoption, but Finding Zoe by Brandi Rarus adds in an additional component that you may not have given much thought. When I took teacher education classes years ago, I chose to write a research paper on deafness as a disability, and was surprised to discover that many deaf people don’t consider deafness a disability. It was helpful to resolve some of my ignorance on the issue.

So with this post I invite you to read Finding Zoe and see if you have any blind spots (so to speak) about either adoption or Deaf Culture that can be filled in with an enlightening memoir.

Appropriately so, actress Marlee Matlin has written the foreword to Finding Zoe. The first part of the book is an engaging primer on deafness, Deaf Culture and various factions and philosophies within it (reminds me of Adoption Culture). Brandi is the perfect person to share this, as a former Miss Deaf America and a bridge between two sometimes-polarized factions in the deaf community.

The latter part is on how daughter Zoe found her way through four other homes before landing with Brandi and her family 8 months after she was born. Zoe, now 10, is the child at the center of a very open adoption. In fact, both her birth parents agreed to be interviewed and the book was released with their permission.

Brandi and her writing partner Gail Harris do an admirable job telling the story from the viewpoints of many of the participants in it. Because of the contentiousness of some of these relationships at some points in time, that was no small feat.

I’m confident you’ll find Finding Zoe — and the upcoming discussion about it — worthwhile.

You are invited to participate in this Virtual Book Tour.

It’s easy and it’s fun.

  1. Sign up today.
  2. Get and read the book.
  3. Be ready to discuss it in December (well before the holidays) with other readers.

Note: You don’t need to have a blog to participate. You can write your post in a space created specifically for blogless readers. Everyone is invited to participate.

The book is available via Amazon in hard cover ($16.72), Kindle ($10), direct from BenBella books ($15.40) and at various other booksellers. I’ll provide the forum here; you just need to provide your own coffee and danishes (or wine and Cheetos, if you’re so inclined).

Author Participation

Author Brandi Rarus will participate in this book tour by responding to reader questions. So if you think of one to ask her while you’re reading the book, capture that thought.

author of finding zoeHow does a Virtual Book Tour work?

It’s easy!

  • October 31: Last day to sign up for the tour. You’ll find the “Book Tour Signup” form below.
  • Read the book between now and mid-November. Reserve it from your library or purchase from your favorite bookseller.
  • November 14: Come up with up 1 or 2 discussion questions to ask of other participants (not Yes-or-No). A question for the author is optional.
  • Shortly thereafter, you’ll receive a list of questions from other participants. From this list you will choose any 3 to answer on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, one will be provided for you.
  • December 2: Posts go up! Links to participant stops on the book tour will be posted here on LavenderLuz.com so you can read, comment and discuss with each other — just like a face-to-face book club, but with less coffee cake and more keystrokes.
  • Please follow this blog and spread the word to interested parties (tweet, share, G+ with the buttons at the bottom of this post).
  • Did I mention you need to sign up?

Fill out this form ↑ .

Author Q&A: Melissa Ford on The Art of the Sequel

We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Melissa Ford’s third novel in the Life From Scratch series, Apart at the Seams.  And we’re fortunate today to have the author herself answering questions our very curious book group put to her.

On Writing

Book Tourist: How did you accumulate so many foreign-words-with-no-real-English-equivalent?

Novelist Melissa FordMelissa Ford: It started with a word that actually wasn’t used in the book: protekcja.  I was working on a draft of the book and had to use that word in conversation with someone on Facebook.  It’s this huge idea of protections/connections/favourtism that we don’t have in English because it isn’t really part of our culture.  The person I was speaking with is also a Hebrew speaker, so while the rest of the message was in English, I left that word untranslated because… well… it’s an untranslatable word, but I knew they would understand it.  Then I went back to working on the novel and thought, “Noah seems like the type of guy who would get excited about untranslatable words.”  I wrote down all the untranslatable words I knew in Hebrew and then started collecting them by asking others what words they knew.

Why a sideways sequel? How did you ever think of such an awesome idea? Did you write both books at the same time or separately? What did you learn from the experience about your own perceptions of other people and situations?

I’ve seen it done a bunch of times, and I’ve always enjoyed it myself.  And it made sense to apply it to this situation.  I think we all think we know things about our friends, and if we were to actually be able to shift perspectives, we’d see how little we understand.

You’ve written on your blog about visiting The Daily Show in researching this book. What other research did you do (for this or your prior fiction?

I spent a lot of time speaking with a designer at Narciso Rodriguez too.  I knew NOTHING about television production or about fashion — so why did I choose two professions I knew nothing about to become major plot points?  Never again.

I feel as if everything potentially becomes research for a book: travel, interesting conversations, visiting someone at their work place.  I’m always tucking aside little things I notice and thinking, “that could bring some verisimilitude to a future book.”

On Characters

Arianna is single, a mom, and driven, however she cohabits with a guy who appears to be the opposite and balances her type A personality. She shares, “Ethan isn’t exactly the poster child for responsibility.” I disagree. Ethan is in his own way; he softens her edges, loving and supporting her for who she is. He is familiar, safe, and wants commitment. She fights it all, which is why Noah is so tantalizing. And scary. One of the fascinating triangles in your book. I  appreciated how the men respected each other. Did you play with writing this triangular relationship another way, and if so how?

Yes!  In the first draft of the book, Arianna was much more interested in Noah from the get-go.  She had a crush on him after they had coffee together, and she was much more proactive in pursuing him.  Then the book swung in the other direction with Noah pursuing Arianna from the get-go.  And finally, I settled on the relationship forming organically over time; a crush is born as they spend time with one another and see how much they have in common.  That crush isn’t necessarily romantic on Arianna’s end; it’s more of an I-wish-my-boyfriend-understood-me-like-he-understands-me thing.

Ethan tries hard, and does pretty well navigating Arianna’s contrasting messages. She appears to make a lot of assumptions about what she feels he should do without having the discussions and creating an environment of understanding. Communication is an issue throughout the story. She makes assumptions about her friend Rachel’s blog, and about others. She talks in her head, a lot. Why doesn’t Arianna communicate better with Ethan, Rachel, her co-workers, and others? Why doesn’t she speak up?

Why don’t any of us speak up? I say that tongue-in-cheek.  There are so many times when I could easily tell someone something, but I don’t because I don’t want to rock the boat, or I think there is no point in saying the words aloud, or I think I know something when it turns out later that I don’t.  I think we all make assumptions every single day.  And part of what makes life interesting is when we realize how off we were in what we first assumed about each other.

I know that as an author you might regard your characters as “children”, hence you love them all, even if sometimes it is a different kind of love. That said, who was more fun to write, Arianna or Rachel? Whose “pain” touched you more, Arianna’s not wanting to marry Ethan or Rachel’s divorcing and then marrying Adam?

I never thought I’d get into writing from Arianna’s point-of-view — it was very difficult for me at first.  But ultimately, I think I enjoyed Arianna more because she is so different from who I am.  I ended up really loving her by the time I said goodbye to her.

How challenging was it for you to take yourself out of writing as Rachel & place yourself as Arianna?

As I said above, it was really hard at first.  Arianna holds her feelings close to her chest and doesn’t discuss difficult things.  I can’t say that I really understand people who operate this way even though I know plenty of people who do.  I think writing from her point-of-view helped me to understand those people better.  And love them just the way they are.

On Happy Ever After

Does Arianna really love Ethan for who he is, what he offers and how he offers it? Can she? I came away feeling she could not over the long haul. I felt she did not really delve deeply enough into who she was or what she wanted and why, other than her son, who was on the peripheral. I picture her in the future as single, sometimes happy with her choices but not fully understanding why she makes them. I never got a feel for her as a mother or her relationship with Beckett, little warmth and maternal overtones. By the end of Apart at the Seams, Arianna seems to be moving towards meeting Ethan half way, however I had little faith that the relationship would be long term. What did impression did you intend to leave your readers with?

I think they’ll make it for the long-haul, unmarried well into old age.  I think Ethan is a pleaser, and he’ll be attempting to please her into the future.  Attempting being the operative word because he doesn’t always get that what would make him happy may not make other people happy.  And I think Arianna genuinely loves him.

There was a lot more about Arianna parenting in earlier drafts of the book which were taken out because this was really a story about her relationship with Ethan and Noah.  We all have many aspects to our identity and infinite pages worth of time to explore them on a daily basis, but in a book, you need to keep a laser focus.

On Blogging and Friendship

About 4% of the way through the book Arianna tells us she “misses” Rachel. She says, “Sometimes I feel as if the blog is the only door I have to her brain lately.” She then goes on to discuss various changes which have impacted their relationship. Do you feel sometimes that starting a personal blog can have a distancing effect on relationships all by itself? If so, how do you think this happens?

Wow… that’s a really interesting question.  I think it can if you assume your friends are reading.  I have a friend that I know reads from time to time because she’ll bring up a post.  But I go into every conversation assuming that she hadn’t read my blog that week and repeat information I wrote about because I never want to take it for granted that someone reads or knows something about me.  So I think as long as you never expect your friends to gain important information via social media, you’re fine.  The second you start putting social media between you as the conduit for the relationship, you run into danger of creating distance.

On Sensibility vs Passion

About 7% of the way through the book, Arianna describes her reasons for choosing the safe career option rather than the fulfilling one, referencing her priorities in life and how they’ve changed and evolved. She says, “I’ve been working to support myself, but not really working to fulfill myself.” How have your priorities changed and evolved throughout your life so far? How do you see them changing and evolving over the next ten years? Can you tell us about the trade offs you’ve made and are prepared to make?

Again, a really interesting question.  I could earn a lot more if I wasn’t a full time writer, but being a full time writer gives me the space to be the parent I want to be while still having an income.  How many other jobs slip into the hours a person wants to work without detracting from the rest of their world?  I get to volunteer in the twins’ school and at their computer club, run a book club for kids, and be “off” (for the most part) the moment they walk into the house.  But the trade off is the financial piece — I’m definitely not earning what I could be earning.  It means checking out library books more often than buying new books.  It means opting for a DVD at home rather than going out to a movie in a theater.  Not things that particularly bother me, but something to consider if you’re ever thinking about writing full time.

That said, one thing I am really struggling with is writing the book I want to write vs. writing the book that I know will sell.  I have tremendous jealousy over writers who have written the sort of books I want to write.  I know — totally useless emotion, but there you go.  It becomes a struggle to justify writing the book I want to write, which likely won’t sell because I can’t do it as well as the writers I admire, or writing the book I’m happy to write, which probably will sell.  I usually go for the book I’m happy to write.

And to be clear, I am really happy with the book I’m working on now, which is — once again — women’s fiction.  I enjoy working on it.  I like the characters.  It’s a great project.  But there’s that book in the back of my brain, my passion project, which is always begging me to work on it.  I obsess about that book, specifically about the fact that I probably shouldn’t put my time towards it.  Did I mention that I’m obsessed with it?

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I bet I’m not the only one who would line up to read Mel’s passion project (well, if people still had to line up to get books). Write it, Mel, write it!

Help an author out: If you’ve read any/all of Mel’s books, make sure to review them on Amazon.

Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each other’s blogs, and to Mel for entertaining our questions. Find Mel at her blog, Stirrup Queens, and as section editor at BlogHer.

In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Apart at the Seams.

Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Kim Court
Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
GeoChick
JodiFur
Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
Mina
Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
Tiara
Katherine A of Inconceivable!
Elizabeth of Project Progeny
Judy Miller
Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
APlusEffort
A

A new book tour announcement is coming soon. Here’s a hint. Stay tuned!