GUEST BLOG: Q&A With Memoir Author LeeAndra Chergey
Memoir writer LeeAndra Chergey recognized that her son faced special challenges by the time he was two years old. Speech was difficult for him, and his sleeping patterns were irregular. But when she first heard the word Autism as a diagnosis, it was a bolt from the blue. “It felt like he’d died,” she recalls.
Painful though it was to hear, that diagnosis proved to be a start for her family, not the end. LeeAndra and her husband dug in to create the best network they could assemble to help their son thrive. After years of hard work, and with assistance from medical professionals, school resources, church communities, and family members, their son is now able to speak and express emotions. And most of all, LeeAndra and her husband have found their own balance and peace.
“We learned that being ‘normal’ is not nearly as important as providing your child with a life full of joy, love, and acceptance,” she says.
LeeAndra’s memoir, “Make A Wish For Me,” shares not only the frustrations the family encountered after that Autism diagnosis, but also their joyful successes. It’s won numerous parenting and non-fiction awards, including first place in Top Shelf Magazine’s parenting category in 2018.
And now, LeeAndra has kindly agreed to share her memoir writing journey with us!
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Q&A With LeeAndra:
Q: How did you decide to write your book?
A: I’d dreamed of being a writer since literally second grade, and graduated with an English degree. But one must eat, so other jobs took precedence. Yet I kept tinkering with ideas. I joined writing groups, took night classes on novel, script and poetry writing.
Fast forward many years, and I finally had a breakthrough moment when I began to write about my son’s diagnosis and “vomited” a scene onto paper. I hadn’t planned on writing that; in fact, I’d spent weeks preparing to write about a completely different subject. But it was such a powerful moment I went with it. That was the beginning.
Q: How long did it take you to finish?
A: It took over four years to finally get it all down. First of all, I had a family, a job, and a marriage, and those things take time. And second, writing is hard. Anyone who tells you different is lying. But it’s also transformational.
Q: Tell me about that transformation, for you.
A: I wrote most of the memoir a few years after my son’s autism diagnosis. So I was playing some catch-up with my emotions. I thought I had already cried all the tears I had, grieving for my son’s disability. But they flowed anew as I retold the story.
It was a cathartic experience. I was able to deal with lingering feelings and stand on firmer ground once I finished. And it was those tears that made me realize my story could actually help people understand what it’s like for a family to undergo a diagnosis of Autism. And – spoiler alert – it did.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?
A: I attended a writers’ conference where you could meet and potentially get an agent. But it was truly disappointing, and eye-opening, to discover that every agent I met was only concerned with my ‘platform’ and how many followers I had.
When I left the conference I decided I wanted to be in control of this story – it wasn’t going to be driven by how many books I sold. I went with a hybrid publisher recommended by a mutual friend. I spent a lot of time rewriting until they accepted my book, and I can say it was an amazing experience.
Q: What other advice do you have for other would-be memoir writers?
A: People would often ask me, “How did you find time to write a book?” There is no ‘finding’ time; you have to make it. It’s a sacrifice you have to make. Some things will have to be put on hold: coffee with friends, a play-date with your children, dinner with your spouse. But in the end it will be worth it. Whatever that time frame is – and be forgiving with yourself – it will happen when you are ready.
I wish someone would have cheered me on more, and told me “the world needs your story.” I was my own cheerleader. I have never been prouder of anything, aside from my children, as my first book. And I will tell you, when you decide to write another book, it will be easier. It’s kind of like pregnancy: once your body knows what to do, it can do it again and it will take much less time.
Keep going, and keep believing that someone will relate and will love hearing your story.
Find LeeAndra’s book on Amazon.com with this AmazonAssociates link!