In this column I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing their books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, Lorraine Dusky, for allowing us to share in your excitement about your new memoir. The book is not just the author’s personal story, but the story of adoption reform.–Marylee MacDonald
Lorraine Dusky’s Author Tip: “Begin writing. You can throw it out later. But getting something down makes the rest follow. If it doesn’t, stop.”
Lorraine Dusky began her long career in journalism by breaking glass ceilings in the newsroom. She soon moved into magazines, writing about everything from politics to poets. Her upward trajectory took a nosedive when she became pregnant in the sixties and could not keep her baby. Within the decade, she turned her attention to adoption reform, and the quest to be reunited with her daughter. She is the author of five books: Hole in My Heart, The Best Companies for Women, Still Unequal, Total Vision, and Birthmark.
Follow her on Goodreads.
MM: A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
LD: You could say I began writing this book after I found out I was pregnant. I knew I would be giving my child up for adoption, so I began writing a letter to my baby while she was in utero. I still have that missive, and used parts of it in my first memoir, Birthmark. However, even before that, I probably was unconsciously “filing” material from my life—even if I wasn’t aware of it. In the fourth grade, I made up my mind that I would become a journalist. In my early career, I leaned into my job as a reporter and feature writer and began filing stories for newspapers.
MM: How did you approach turning this idea into a manuscript, and eventually a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
LD: I began writing for my local weekly newspaper at fifteen with a column about the goings-on at my high school in Dearborn, Michigan. I called it “Shamrock Snatches” after the name of our athletic teams, the Shamrocks. I was editor of the high school newspaper, majored in journalism at Wayne State University, and became managing editor of the college daily. I think I was the first woman managing editor. The last two years of college, I worked summers for the same weekly. My first job out of college was on a daily newspaper in Saginaw, Michigan. You know, the Saginaw in the Simon and Garfunkle song, “America”? Just as they sing about in that song—it came out three years after I left—I moved away from Saginaw to find my fortune elsewhere.
MM: Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
LD: All of the above. Because I had published successful books before, I had an agent who took my manuscript to publishers. However, Hole in My Heart was turned down by at least three dozen publishers—the first edition, that is. The subject is controversial. In the book, I am turning a popular myth on its head by saying that adoption, per se, is not as simple and pretty as it seems. Outsiders may initially only think of adoption in terms of the infant who needs care and love—not what happens to the women who give birth to that infant, not what adoption—closed or open—does to the self-image and grounding of that infant as they become sentient beings. As these adopted children grow up, they begin to question who they are and where they came from.
And so many people—adopted people—today still find that information essential to their identity and well-being is hidden behind a door slammed shut to them. They can’t get their birth certificates, reconnect with their original families, or get their health histories. That’s a flagrant injustice against common humanity. Yet that is the brutal reality for millions of people in America. Most other civilized countries don’t handle their adoptions this way. The state doesn’t wipe out their origins and tell them, too bad if you want to know them. I’ve gotten off the topic here, but you can tell the subject is one I feel passionate about.
Eventually I self-published, but after a couple of years realized I wanted to update—the laws are changing, however slowly—and add material I had previously cut. Well, it is a long story. Lots of highways and byways.
MM: What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
LD: Since I’ve been writing most of my life, I have no idea how to answer that question. Writing to me is as natural as breathing.
MM: What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
LD: Begin writing. You can throw it out later. But getting something down makes the rest follow. If it doesn’t, stop.
MM: Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
LD: Hmmm. Honestly, I think you are either a writer or you aren’t. Tools can help, but an ability to tell a story on paper is something you either can do…or not. It’s like being a visual artist. There is only so much you can teach. The natural ability—the clay—has to be inside you.
MM: Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
LD: I love my cover. We hired a professional designer, but both my editor and I had a raw idea of what it would be like. I envisioned a whiteish background always with a big red circle or heart. My first idea…looked a lot like the Japanese flag. A big red circle. My first cover had the bones of that, with a tear coming from the red circle.
MM: Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book?
LD: I hope my book has universal appeal. It covers a basic human need to know who we are and where we came from. More women will probably read my book, so I get the warmest feeling when a guy says something nice about it. Our carpenter/handyman—who is well educated—told me, “This is not just a book for women!” That was one of the best compliments.
MM: How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media, Goodreads, or Amazon?
LD: I’ve had a blog since 2009, although other social media have taken the place of most blogs. I am on Facebook, but Twitter frightens me. I’d like to try TikTok but there’s been something about Chinese combing up too much data about us, so I’ve shied away from it so far.
MM: What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey?
LD: I want the unvarnished truth about adoption to be between the pages of a book, and I want all in the adoption triad to be part of the conversation: mothers and fathers who conceived and bore the children; the men and women who grew up in adopted families; and, certainly, adoptive parents. I want this book to change the way people think about adoption. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
MM: What piece of writing has influenced you the most?
LD: The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it when I was the age she was when she wrote it, and I thought, she’s changing the way people think about the war. I want to do that.
Lorraine Dusky’s blog, First Mother Forum, is where you can find a wealth of information about adoption, adoption reform, and family reunion. Be sure to also read the article on the publisher’s website. At the bottom you can preview the book and see if you’d like to add it to your bookshelf.
Her blog: First Mother Forum
Email address FirstMotherForum at gmail.com