Today, I’m welcoming Janet Cromer to share a bit about her memoir on brain injury.
Janet, welcome to Reviews and Interviews. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a psychiatric RN, licensed psychotherapist, and freelance writer. I have written fifty feature articles for healthcare professionals and the public. When not writing memoir, I write essays and poetry.
Please tell us about your current release.
My memoir Professor Cromer Learns to Read: A Couple’s New Life after Brain Injury chronicles the seven-year journey my husband Alan and I shared, following his severe anoxic brain injury after a cardiac arrest in 1998. Above all, the book is a love story about a marriage that transforms several times to survive the ravages of catastrophic illness. In an instant, Alan went from being a physics professor to being a brain injury survivor fighting to regain his abilities to read, write, walk, talk, think, and remember. Alan did rebuild his essential skills to varying degrees. He went on to compose a new identity, and we gradually reinvented our marriage and a new life with meaning and pleasure.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had three intentions when I wrote the book. First, I wanted to honor the ceaseless determination that Alan poured into being the best person he could be. Second, I wanted to honor our twenty year marriage. Alan died in 2005, seven years after his fatal heart attack. Third, I wanted to write an honest exploration of a caregiver’s jagged and emotional process of reinvention and adaptation.
Brain injury is in the news every day now as the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the young families of wounded service members will face many of the issues that we did. Three million civilians also sustain brain injuries every year. I want to raise awareness of what life is like after a severe brain injury, and be an advocate for improved rehabilitation and life-long services for survivors and families.
Do you anticipate writing more about the subject?
Now I’m focusing on blogging about brain injury, family caregiver issues, creativity, and the writing life. Blogging is so much fun because the interaction with readers is so immediate and interesting. I’m also getting back to writing essays to submit to medical humanities journals and newspapers.
Did you ever imagine you’d become a published author?
I always wanted to write a book, but held back for too long. Alan was a prolific writer of physics textbooks and science books for the public. I let myself be intimidated by his scholarship and productivity, when my subjects and style were completely different anyway. Now I advise writers to respect your personal style, process, and passionate subjects instead of comparing yourself to other writers. I chose to publish Professor Cromer Learns to Read independently to get it into print in a timely way and have control over the process. The day the first copy arrived at my door, I flew through the ceiling with joy!
Are there other books now clamoring within you to be written?
I’d like to write a romance novel about a couple who meet later in life, say in their sixties. I’d have fun following their escapades of courtship, the reactions of their families and friends to their engagement, and how they experiment with defining and building a new marriage at that age. This book would be much lighter and capricious than my first.
What has surprised you the most since publishing this book?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet over 1,000 people this year as I spoke at conferences, hospitals, and literary events. So many brain injury survivors or their caregivers have said, “You told my story. I could relate to so much of what you and Alan went through.” Even though every recovery is unique, we all have so much to learn from each other.
Many readers have told me they liked the all the humor in the book. And that everyone wonders how they would handle a sudden, life-altering illness or event. Reading the book gave them a safe way to imagine how they might respond.
I’ve been surprised that everything I heard about book promotion being a full-time job is indeed true!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write on the walls. I saved every scrap of paper for seven years in anticipation of writing my memoir. When it was time to organize all those journals, medical records, photographs, and notes I had to devise a visual road map. So, I hung long strips of white paper on my hallway walls and marked a year from 1998-2005 at the top of each strip. Then as I sorted through the materials, I could write notes, key quotes, and lessons learned in retrospect for each year. Friends who stayed overnight found my “wallpaper” a bit disconcerting, but it worked for me!
Writing on the walls must have really entertained your muse, too.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The Boston Globe had a wonderful feature with the headline “Human Interest Story.” I raced to read that article every week. I was mesmerized by the stories of people facing challenges that they either overcame or were crushed by. I ached to be a reporter for that column when I grew up. There was a connection in my chosen career. As a medical and psychiatric RN I had the privilege of working with people during the most desperate or triumphant times of their lives. Now I want to write human interest stories again.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Even though writing Professor Cromer Learns to Read made me sad or overwhelmed at times, I’m so happy that I kept going. I found it most enlightening to take essay writing classes to find my voice, and to join a fantastic writers group for ongoing critique and learning. We all have a story to tell that others will find fascinating or instructive. Set aside your doubts and keep writing!
Janet, thank you for stopping by today and sharing a bit about your writing life. I wish you all the best with future projects.