Interview with Author Loretta Ellsworth and Book Giveaway

February 12, 2010

Years ago, author Loretta Ellsworth gave up her job as a middle school Spanish teacher to write books for young adults. Her newest to be released is called In a Heartbeat, a story about a young organ donor, the girl who receives her heart, and how one small everyday action can have ripple effects. I reviewed In a Heartbeat yesterday, and announced that I’m giving away a copy of this book to one reader who comments on my post. Now here’s an interview with Loretta that will help you learn more about the author and her books.

How did you become a writer?

LE: I always loved to write but never considered it seriously until I worked part-time at a local library—being surrounded by books can do that to you. I started out slowly, writing articles for magazines and taking classes in fiction writing. My first article was published when I was 30. It took more than 10 years after that to sell my first book.

Tell us a little about how you spend your time writing.

LE: I try to write every day, but I’m very flexible about when I write. With my first two books I had four teenage children and a teaching job, so I had to write whenever and wherever I could; at soccer practice, doctor offices, etc. I usually start with an idea or character and go from there—I never know where the story is going; that’s part of the fun of writing, to discover the story as I go. It also means quite a bit of revision, though.

Has your life been affected by an organ transplant, either through a donor or recipient?

LE: I started this book shortly after my mother died of congestive heart failure and my nephew was killed in a motorcycle accident. We were surprised to find out that he had signed up to be an organ donor on his license— he’d never told his parents about his decision to do that. Although they couldn’t save his heart for transplantation, many of his other organs were donated. These two events happened within a few weeks of each other, and for a while I couldn’t write. When I did start writing, I felt compelled to write about an organ transplant and I wanted to include the donor’s voice. I think it started out as therapy for me; a way to write through my grief.

What kind of research did you conduct to write In a Heartbeat?

LE: I read books and hospital websites, and did a lot of research on organ transplants, talking with doctors, nurses, transplant coordinators, and recipients. I also conducted research on skating, since none of my children were skaters. I spoke with coaches, moms, and competitive skaters, and spent time at the rink.

Did you consult with organ recipients? Did you talk to families of donors? What about doctors or other experts?

LE: I spoke with two different recipients, who were both kind enough to share their experiences and feelings. I also spoke with doctors, nurses, and transplant coordinators.

What do you feel is the most important message of In a Heartbeat?

LE: I don’t write with a message in mind—message-driven books are often heavy-handed, and teens don’t want more lecturing. In this book I just wanted to explore character and relationships while creating a compelling story.

This book is as much about the relationships between mothers and daughters as it is about organ donation. What were you trying to convey through Eagan’s mom and Amelia’s mom, who both seem to have very different approaches to mothering?

LE: Someone I know lost her mother when she was young, during her turbulent teenage years, and they didn’t always get along. After going through those years with my own mother, and now with my daughter, I realize that if her mother had died when she was older, after they’d gotten through those difficult years, it would have been so different for her— this was how I approached Eagan’s mom. Having a child with disabilities and medical problems, I’ve often felt that I had to be strong enough for both of us, to keep my child going when he’s down. I think this was how I approached Amelia’s mom. Both mothers have their strengths and frailties– it just comes out differently.

What other books have you written?

LE: My first book was The Shrouding Woman, a story set in the 1870’s in Caledonia, Minnesota. It’s about a girl whose aunt is a shrouding woman—someone who prepared bodies for burial. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back thousands of years. My second book was In Search of Mockingbird, a story of a girl who travels by bus to Monroeville, Alabama, with the hope of meeting of her favorite author.

Are you working on anything now?

LE: I’m working on two stories right now— one is about a boy with a perfect memory, and the other story, set in the 1960’s, is about a girl looking to make her mark on the world.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to members of mother-daughter book clubs?

LE: What a great way to connect and communicate! I wish I had belonged to one when my daughter was young—now that she’s in her twenties we share books back and forth and she has become one of my first readers. And I also have two daughters-in-law who are both avid readers, so we all read the same books and discuss them—we’re currently reading The Hunger Games series (by Suzanne Collins).

(Note: Book giveaway is closed. See the previous post for winner info.) Don’t forget to comment about Loretta or her book on yesterday’s blog post for a chance to win a copy of In a Heartbeat. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, and I’ll choose a winner from entries posted before midnight (Pacific Standard Time) on Friday, February 12.

You may also be interested in checking out other blogs where Loretta has appeared this month as part of the blog tour for the release of her book. Here’s where you can find her:

Bildungsroman: http://slayground.livejournal.com

Elizabeth Dulemba: http://dulemba.blogspot.com

April Hamrick: http://aprilnichole.com

Library Lounge Lizard: http://www.libraryloungelizard.com

Butterfly Book Reviews: http://butterflybookreviews.blogspot.com

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf: http://laurenscrammedbookshelf.blogspot.com

Books by Their Cover: http://booksbytheircover.blogspot.com

Shelf Elf: http://shelfelf.wordpress.com

Read This Book (coming February 13): http://readthisbook.wordpress.com/

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Interview with Tammar Stein—Author of Light Years and High Dive

November 24, 2009

When my book club with my daughter Madeleine read Light Years by Tammar Stein, the timing was great. The girls had been in high school for a year and were looking ahead to college. This story of a young woman who leaves her native Israel to attend college in the U.S. introduced them to the possibilities of what their lives would be like when they left home to go away to a university. The main character, Maya, is fleeing memories of her boyfriend killed by a suicide bomber and the guilt she feels that she may have been the one to push the bomber to his action. As the story takes place in Maya’s present and her past, we all learned a lot about life in Israel as well as on a college campus. We had a great discussion about cultural differences between our countries, the concept of spending two years in service to your country after high school, and finding a way to continue on with your life in the aftermath of personal tragedy.

I have not read Tammar’s other book High Dive, yet. But reading the publisher’s description made me add it to our possible choices for Catherine’s book club. Either way, I can’t wait to read it myself.

“Arden has a plane ticket to Sardinia to say goodbye to her family’s beloved vacation home after her father’s sudden death and her mother’s deployment to Iraq as an army nurse. Lonely for her father and petrified for her mother’s safety, Arden dreads her trip to the house in Sardinia—the only place that has truly felt like home to her. So when she meets a group of fun, carefree, and careless friends on their summer break, she decides to put off her trip and join them to sample the sights and culinary delights of Europe. Soon they are climbing the Eiffel Tower, taking in the French countryside on a train chugging toward the Alps, and gazing at Michelangelo’s David in Florence, all the while eating gelato and sipping cappuccino. Arden tries to forget about the danger her mom faces every day, to pretend she’s just like the rest of the girls, flirting with cute European guys and worried only about where to party next.
But the house in Sardinia beckons and she has to make a choice. Is Arden ready to jump off the high dive?”

Tammar graciously answered my questions by email from her home in Florida. Here’s my interview with her:

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided to become a writer?

TS: Basically, I love to read. I will read anything, anytime, anywhere. When I was in high school and trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I figured that I couldn’t be a reader and be paid for it. Being a novelist seemed like the next best thing.

I know you’ve lived in several countries and different states as well. Do you have one place you long to go back to and live there again?

TS: When I lived in Europe, after a couple of years I was very homesick. I missed the US and a lot of the cultural difference that I found cute when I arrived, I suddenly found very irritating. That’s when I knew it was time to come home. But now that I’ve been back in the States for seven years, I’m ready for a new international adventure.

What do you like about living in Florida, and do you think you’ll be on the move again anytime soon?

TS: I love Florida, especially now in November. The high is 82 today! From late October through late April is just amazing here. The orange trees are heavy with fruit and in February their blossoms fill the air the most amazing scent.

In Light Years, Maya leaves her native Israel after her boyfriend is killed by a suicide bomber to attend college in the U.S. How easy or difficult was it for you to write about two very different cultures?

TS: It was fun! People from different cultures will notice things that long time residents just take for granted. It’s very illuminated to talk with a foreigner, their different point of view and reference points can make you question the status quo. As a novelist, bringing in a stranger can help showcase things that otherwise would be awkward to bring up.

What do you see are some of the biggest cultural differences between life in the two countries?

TS: Well in some ways they’re very similar—progressive and Western. Israelis are more likely to speak their mind, there’s less polite lip-service. There’s a very strong culture of hospitality there, as well. If you’re ever invited to an Israeli’s home, you can count on a huge spread—more food that you can possibly eat and a lot of fussing over you.

In Israel, two years of service to the state after high school is mandatory. Do you think that idea would ever work here in the U.S.? What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of mandatory service?

TS: We all cherish the things we worked hardest for. Being forced to take care of your country, to give up your time and energy and really dedicate yourself to making your country a better, safer place will make people love their country more in the end. I also think that putting off college for 2 years is a good thing. A lot of people just aren’t ready for serious study and a break from high school is just the thing they need for perspective and maturity. The military teaches you discipline and leadership, both are needed qualities for success.

That said, I like the European model for mandatory service better. You can choose between going into the military or civil service: teaching in schools, working in hospitals, or national parks. The military really isn’t for everyone, this would give everyone a chance to go where they can really shine.

Maya is a strong, independent character in many ways. Do you see a lot of yourself in her?

TS: I don’t know. I think there’s something of me in every character—they came from my brain after all. Maybe the best way to think of it is that Maya is who I could have been if I had made different choices in my life. But so is Arden (from High Dive) and the two of them are very different.

What kind of research did you conduct for Light Years?

TS: I interviewed IDF members, particularly women. I visited Israel several times. And I read what I could get my hands on regarding Israeli/Palestinian relations, suicide bombers, and grief counseling.

Your second book, High Dive, also features a main character who doesn’t want to face tragic events in her life. What do you hope to convey to readers about moving beyond tragedy to create a life after an event?

TS: It’s a hard thing to do. That’s what I find so fascinating about it. Julia Glass once said that all great novels deal with the same thing: the heart in conflict with itself. I completely agree with that. How do you get over something traumatic? How do you forgive yourself? How do you trust in the future? Maya and Arden both stumble, making their way through those minefields. I think everyone has to find their own way, but friendship and love always help.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to MotherDaughter Book Club.com readers?

TS: Read! There’s nothing as wonderful as a good book, except a good book you can discuss with your loved ones.

Visit Tammar Stein’s website for more information about her and her books.


Book Review and Giveaway: The Last Will of Moira Leahy, Interview with Author Therese Walsh

November 4, 2009

Today I’m excited to feature Therese Walsh and her new book The Last Will of Moira Leahy. This was such an interesting book to read, and I’m eager to share more about it with you. First up is my review, followed by an interview with Therese. Then look for details so you can win a copy of her book.

Review: The Last Will of Moira Leahy

Moira Leahy

Twenty-five-year-old Maeve Leahy likes her life orderly with limited surprises. But she’s feeling restless one November night as she thinks about her twin, Moira, whom she lost to a night in November nine years before. As a distraction, she attends an antiques auction where she places the winning bid on a special dagger, a Javanese keris, very much like one she accidentally dropped into a bay years ago while playing a pirate queen with Moira.

Soon mysterious things begin to happen. A book on weaponry is nailed to the door of her office at the small college in New York State where she teaches. She feels she’s being watched. Then she receives a note asking her to travel to Rome where she can learn more about her knife from a man who uses an age-old tradition to make blades just like it.

In Rome she’s joined by Noel, the only man Maeve has let into her inner world while still keeping him at a distance. Noel has been in Europe searching for answers from his own past and escaping from the uncertainties of his relationship with Maeve. Together they start to unravel their feelings for each other, the mystery of the keris, the man behind the blade, and the voices in Maeve’s mind that refuse to go away. Maeve also finally confronts her own feelings for her twin and the shocking event that separated them as teenagers.

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh is a richly conceived tale that weaves mystery, romance, adventure and self-discovery into one beautiful package. Moira’s story from years before appears tucked in between Maeve’s narrative in the present. The twins’ inseparable bond is both a comfort and a burden to them as they learn to find their own talents. Topics to discuss include the special bond that exists between twins, learning to be true to your own personality without taking away from family members, honesty in relationships, deciding to have sex with a boyfriend, learning to deal with family tragedy and more. The Last Will of Moira Leahy is billed as women’s fiction, but it is appropriate for book clubs with girls aged 15 and over. Highly recommended.

Interview: Author Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh

Most people recognize the special bond that exists between twins. What prompted you to write about twins?

TW: Believe it or not, I didn’t intend to write about twins. When I first began writing, I meant to create a simple love story between Maeve Leahy and her friend, Noel. Moira kind of appeared on the page one day and changed the dynamic of the book. I rewrote the story to center it around the relationship between the twins when I realized the emotional power of their story.

The book is mostly told in Maeve’s voice, with small glimpses of Moira’s point of view. What do you want the reader to learn about Moira when we hear her voice?

TW: I wanted readers to get to know Moira and realize she wasn’t a bad person, and I felt that hearing only from Maeve’s point of view might have meant people didn’t give Moira the benefit of the doubt. I think that both girls were good people, and I wanted them each to be understood.

Maeve and Moira’s mother plays a crucial role in their lives through her decisions on how to direct their talents. But she also seems insignificant in some ways. Do you think the twins didn’t need her as much because they had each other?

TW: That was definitely Abby’s perception—that they didn’t need her. The truth was that the twins needed her in ways that felt unsatisfying to Abby, because they were drawing so much emotional support from one another and they understood one another exceedingly well. But Abby was their mother, and so they did need her in a million little ways. There’s a hole in Maeve’s life after she loses her twin but there’s another beside that one because she’s lost her mother in a sense, too. That hole wouldn’t be there if Abby was truly insignificant to her.

How did you become aware of and interested in the keris?

TW: I found the keris almost by fluke. As I said, I’d first planned to write a simple love story. Well, Noel was an antiques dealer, and I spent many happy hours going through eBay listings, looking for antiques that I planned later to describe in his shop. One of the items I found was an antique Javanese keris—a dagger with a wavy blade. It looked interesting, so I made a record of it. I wanted my first scene to take place in an auction house and wasn’t sure which item should draw my characters’ attention. I chose the keris from my list without much thought.

I gave my scene to a friend, who read it with interest and then asked if the keris would be important to the rest of the book. It sounded like a good idea. I dug in, did some research, and realized the keris was so much more than a pretty blade. Maeve Leahy, the main character, realizes the same throughout the course of the novel.

What kind of research did your conduct for your book and how long did you spend on research?

TW: I traveled to Castine, Maine; I read books (on twins, on Rome, on strange phenomena), I spoke with people (about Castine and Rome and the Javanese keris); and I did more online research than I can name (on twins and post traumatic stress disorder and antiques and airlines and sailing and pirates and more!).

I love research, and I spend far more time on it than I’ll admit in a public forum that may be visited by my editor. But seriously, I do love it and I let it divert me and inform the direction of the story if it’s juicy enough.

Your book takes place in Maine, New York and Rome. Are any of these places special to you in some way?

TW: When I first began writing this story, I chose to center the book in upstate because it was what I knew; I live in upstate New York. I ventured out of “safe” territory shortly thereafter by sending my characters to Rome, Italy. When I rewrote the book to focus on the twin sisters, I decided to add scenes from Castine, Maine, as well. I don’t have a special connection to Rome or Castine, but I did visit Castine and learned much about the town on that trip.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be a novelist.

TW: I was hired as a features researcher for Prevention Magazine out of graduate school. I’d long loved to write, though I hadn’t considered it as a career until my stint with Prevention. Opportunities were born, and I took them. And when my daughter was born, I left my in-house job to become a freelance health researcher and writer.

Fiction became a part of the everyday at that point—reading to my daughter, then my son. And because I liked to write, one thing led to another; I started writing children’s stories. None were published, but that didn’t matter; Pandora’s Box had been opened. One thing I learned while writing children’s stories was that I loved a good juicy sentence, so I thought I should try my hand at adult fiction. And I did.

Can you tell us about your next book and when we can expect to see it in print?

TW: Yes, I’m writing about a blind woman who travels across West Virginia in search of her dead mother’s unfinished story and along the way teaches others how to see the world. It’s another novel with cross-genre elements—some mystery and psychological suspense, a little romance, and some mythical realism. But this book also has a whole lot of Quirk, and I love that. My deadline for the book is 12/10, so it should be on the shelves sometime in 2011. That may seem like a long time, but I’ll use every minute wisely.

Anything else you’d like to say to members of mother-daughter book clubs?

TW: Just that I’m flattered to be featured here, and I hope that The Last Will of Moira Leahy inspires some interesting conversations between mothers and daughters. Please send me a note when you’ve finished the book to let me know your thoughts. I welcome the feedback. Happy reading!

About the Author

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online.

She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, Therese’s favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell.

Win:  One Copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy to be Given Away

If you’re intrigued by this review, interview and Therese’s background, you’ll definitely want to read her book. You can win a copy right here by commenting on this post. Tell us which element of Therese’s story intrigues you the most, or make a comment on one of her interview answers. One winner will be chosen from all who comment before midnight, Pacific Daylight Time on Thursday, November 5.


Mother-Daughter Book Club Week Continues at Booking Mama

October 27, 2009

Booking Mama continues the mother-daughter book club week fun today with an interview of Heather Vogel Frederick, author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne and Dear Pen Pal. Find out how Heather started on her mother-daughter book club series, and learn a little more about the fourth book in the series she just finished writing. And there’s a surprise too! Click here to read the interview on Booking Mama. And for more info on Heather, read my interview with her at Mother Daughter Book Club.com.

Don’t forget to enter Booking Mama’s giveaway this week. Two lucky winners will get 1 copy of my book plus 5 copies of Heather’s three books mentioned above. It’s a perfect way to start a new mother-daughter book club or add to one that’s already in existence. The chance to enter the giveaway ends Monday, November 2 at 11:59 p.m. EST, so don’t wait to get your name in.

 


Interview with Alexandria LaFaye, Author of Water Steps

October 22, 2009

Alexandria & Adia

Author Alexandria LaFaye and her daughter Adia.

Alexandria LaFaye is the author of Water Steps (read review), a story about a girl learning to overcome her fears and believe that life can be magic. LaFaye has also penned several other novels for young readers, including The Year of the Sawdust Man and Worth. Recently, LaFaye was able to talk through email about her newest book and more. Here’s the interview:

In Water Steps, Kyna has to overcome her fears one step at a time. Have you ever conquered a phobia that way?

AL: When I was five, I nearly drowned at a beach near my grandmother’s house.  My mom rescued me just in time, so there is a hint of autobiography in the book.  I was afraid to go underwater for quite some time. I took a similar approach to overcoming it—getting in the water and willing myself to go underwater and stay under a little longer every time. Facing my fears and praying to have God at my side has always been my approach to dealing with things I’m afraid of.

Irish folklore and mythical beings such as leprechauns, faeries and silkies are woven into the tales Kyna’s parents tell her. Are those stories you grew up with as well, or did you learn about those things after you grew up?

AL: My mom read stories out of books—everything from the Bible to Justin Morgan Had a Horse. My dad made up his own whimsical tales about when he was in the Civil War and so on.  He drew a lot of inspiration from his favorites on TV, such as Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, and Tommy Smothers. I teach children’s literature and often include mythology, so that’s where I came across many of these stories.

Kyna is adopted, and I see you’ve recently adopted a baby girl as well. Did you write about adoptive parents before you were one? How has your experience with adoption colored your view of adopting a child from both the parent’s and the child’s perspective?

AL: Actually, both Water Steps and Worth, which is also about adoption, were written well before I adopted my daughter, Adia. Adoption has always been part of my parenthood plan. I’ve always wanted a family that celebrates multiculturalism and shows that love is about choice and unconditional acceptance. I don’t believe that my view of adoption has changed much, except that now I am more eager than ever to adopt a second child in a few years. I’m also even more grateful to God for bringing little Miss Adia into my life.

Water Steps is described a a fantasy novel, but I would also say it is also contemporary fiction. Do you often blend genres in the things you write?

AL: I love genre blends and I refer to this novel as a reality based fantasy. My next novel, The Keening, due out with Milkweed Editions in the spring of 2010, is a supernatural-historical tale, so it’s also a blended genre novel. I look forward to doing more of those in the future. It’s a fun way to give a novel even more depth and unique twists and turns.

Out of all the places you have lived, do you have a favorite you’d like to go back to? What do you like best about Arkansas, where you live now?

AL: I get to return to Virginia every summer to teach in the Hollins University program in Children’s Literature. I go back to Wisconsin to visit family every time I return to Minnesota to teach in the low residency MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University. The one place I’d love to return to is Pullman, Washington. They have a fabulous university and a quaint downtown lined with pear trees. I love the passion for books among the folks I know in Arkansas. I have also made one of the most life changing and supportive friendships of my life in Arkansas and I’m grateful to Yvonne Furniss for her friendship—she’s a book lover too!

On your website you say you’re an avid hat-wearer. Do you have a story to tell about discovering you loved to wear hats?

AL: You know, I’ve always loved them—I’m even wearing hats in my baby pictures. I guess, you could say I just never stopped wearing them when I grew up as many people do. Hats are a great way to top off a good outfit. I just never thought they’d attract so much attention. People aren’t used to women who wear hats outside of church. Too bad I couldn’t start a trend in hat wearing!

Is there anything you’d like to say to moms and daughters in book clubs?

AL: Never stop reading together and talking about what you read with each other, it’s a fabulous way to keep in touch, share your thoughts. And I recommend trading off on choices—let mom pick one, then daughter. And don’t be afraid to draw dad and brother in on the action. I’d also want to invite anyone who reads Water Steps or any of my other books to feel free to visit my website and ask me a question. And I love to visit book clubs, schools, and libraries to talk about reading, writing, and following your dreams.


Blog Guest Appearance—Ask Wendy

October 6, 2009

Today I’m being interviewed by Wendy Burt Thomas of Ask Wendy. One of Wendy’s books, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters, continues to help me with pitching letters to editors. She ask questions about my book, the writing life, and life in general. Here’s the link to the interview.

CHudsonHeadShot5Web


Book Review: A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism; Interview with Author Laura Shumaker

March 6, 2009

I’m happy to review a new memoir by Laura Shumaker called A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism. Shumaker’s story will resonate with many parents, whether they are raising a child with autism or one of it’s related conditions, or even if they are raising a child with any special needs. Here is my review of the book followed by a question and answer with the author.

a-regular-guy

Laura Shumaker brings us inside the world of a parent who is raising a son with autism in her heartfelt memoir, A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism. When Matthew was born, Shumaker and her husband marveled over their perfect baby and looked forward to watching him grow. But as he grew into a toddler, the Shumakers became concerned about developmental delays they noticed, and they questioned his pediatrician.

It took many frustrating visits to many physicians before Matthew was diagnosed with autism, and even then the Shumakers were given conflicting advice on what to do for him. Any parent who has ever struggled to get an accurate diagnosis for a child will feel the frustration Shumaker feels of knowing something is not right, yet being unable to get helpful medical advice.

As Matthew grows up, Shumaker works to make sure he feels as normal as possible, while also raising her younger two sons as well. She and her husband, Peter, try different treatments and therapies, at great cost to their finances and their emotions. Through it all Shumaker never stops trying to do what’s best for the whole family.

Shumaker’s story is an inspiring tale of a mother who never gives up on her son. She tells it straightforward, not asking for sympathy, but for understanding. Anyone who is raising a child with autism or has a relative with autism should be able to relate to her quest to help her son eventually be an independent adult. Anyone who is touched by autism in any way, at school or church or another community gathering place, will be able to learn more about the condition and possibly be more understanding of people who have it.

I highly recommend A Regular Guy for mother-daughter book clubs that may want to explore autism as it relates to everyone in a family.

An Inteview  with Laura Shumaker

Your story about raising a son with autism is very moving as well as informative. What prompted you to write a book about your experience?

LS: I never thought about writing my story while I was raising Matthew—I was so overwhelmed with taking care of his needs AND the needs of my other two sons. I’m sure that all moms with special needs children can relate! But when Matthew was 15 his behavior in school and in our community took a dangerous turn—and my husband came to the heartbreaking conclusion that we needed to send him to a residential school.

Friends and family who had seen me struggle with him over the years thought I might be relieved, but instead I felt lost, like I was a failure of a mother, and I decided to write about it. A friend encouraged me to join her writing group and I was hooked!!

Getting a diagnosis of autism for Matthew was difficult; do you think it is easier for parents to have a child diagnosed today than it was in the 1980s?

LS: When Matthew was young, it was so obvious that he was autistic, but we didn’t even get a formal diagnosis until he was five or six! It is so much easier to get a diagnosis today! Pediatricians are screening infants starting at eight months old. Parents are also better informed with all of the information online. There are many more tried and true early intervention programs that help children on the autism spectrum learn and connect.

Do you think treatment is more effective now than it was then?

LS: Yes! With the treatment and therapies available these days, outcomes for autistic children are so much more helpful. There is a heightened awareness these days about autism and other developmental disabilities; people are so much more willing to be inclusive.

As quirky as Matthew is, he has so much to offer and watching him try to be a “regular guy” has moved us as a family to appreciate the differences in others. And we have also developed a great sense of humor! My sons Andy and John, now 20 and 16, have grown into compassionate and patient young men (with INCREDIBLE senses of humor). We are so lucky.

Can you share with us one overriding piece of advice about raising a child with autism you wish you would have had when Matthew was growing up?

LS: The best thing I did for myself (and I would have done it earlier if I’d known it would be so helpful) was find a great therapist. When Matthew was little, I tried to hide the anguish and hopelessness I felt from my parents (who were a great support, by the way) and my husband. I wanted everyone to think I had everything under control, but eventually I fell apart. I started getting sick all of the time, was anxious and wasn’t sleeping.

The therapist encouraged me to share my load—to find helpers and mentors who could work and play with Matthew so that I could get a break. She encouraged me to enjoy time with my other two sons and with my husband. Many moms enjoy group therapy, but I found a one on one therapist to be the best solution for me.

What advice do you have for siblings of a child with autism?

LS: What siblings really want and need is time with their parents. So much time and energy goes into the care of a sibling with a disability. I encourage kids to ask their parents for one-on-one outings with their parents–regularly. Siblings need to speak up when they are feeling overlooked! Sibling groups are also very helpful (they call them “sib groups”). It’s really great for siblings to get together with OTHER siblings to tell stories and VENT!!

Can you recommend resources on the Web where friends and extended family of someone with autism can learn more about ways they can be supportive?

LS: My Web site of course! www.laurashumaker.com. On the right side of my site there is a long list of autism information sites. One of the best links on my Web site is for autism speaks (www.autismspeaks.org).

That said, the best way that family and friends can be helpful and supportive is to ask questions. “What can I do to help? What is the best way I can communicate with your child? What does he/she like or dislike? How can I educate other family and friends about your child?” And of course the best question, “Can I take your child off your hands for a few hours?”