Saturday, August 1, 2009

Author Interview: Terrell Harris Dougan

From the book jacket:

"Meet Terrell Dougan's sister, Irene: a woman in her sixties who still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny -- but who also enjoys playing those characters for the children at the local hospital: whose favorite outfit, which she'll sneak into whenever Terrell's back is turned, consists of Mickey Mouse kneesocks and shorts: who wins over the neighborhood kids by hosting two fire trucks at her lemonade stand: whose fridge bears a magnet: NORMAL PEOPLE WORRY ME.

When Irene was born, her parents were advised to institutionalize her. They refused and instead became trailblazers in advocating for the rights of people with mental disabilities. The entire family benefited, with a life rich in stress, sorrows, hilarity, joy and overwhelming kindness from strangers."

My thoughts:

I absolutely adored this story! Terrell Harris Dougan has created a real treasure trove of inspiration for her readers of the book "That Went Well."
As I read the book, it took on two distinct aspects for me. One, I saw the wonderful advice she offers to anyone who has a mentally challenged friend or family member. My husband has an adult daughter who has the mental capacity of a 10 year old. But because she is an adult, she is free (by law) to make her own decisions, no matter how wrong they may be. We've learned to grit our teeth and hope for the best at those times. Reading this book gave me a new perspective and my jaw doesn't always hurt quite so bad anymore!
Second, the stories of the fun and often hilarious adventures of these two sisters made me laugh out loud at times. They obviously love each other dearly and now that they are adults, I'm sure Terrell wouldn't change her experiences with her sister for the world.
Also, I grew up next door to a family who had a grown daughter who was mentally 6 years of age and this book brought back some fun memories of them!
In fact, I found myself wanting to read more about these two ladies when I got to the end of the story!
My recommendation is for anyone who has a mentally challenged sibling to read this book. I think it would be especially important for an older teen as he or she begins reaching out into the adult world and is beginning to find themselves, at times, embarrassed or anxious to introduce friends to the family.
Terrell is to be commended for writing this poignant book. It is one I will keep until I meet someone who needs it worse than I do!
Thanks, Terrell, for your insightful look into the world of these special people!
I give "That Went Well" the most I can ... five books.

And now, I'd like to welcome author Terrell Harris Dougan to my blog. This is such a treat for me and you'll see why as you read her answers to the questions I asked her. She a kind and gracious lady and I hope someday to meet her in person!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am about to turn 70 years old, which sounds so very ancient, doesn’t it? But I feel about 20, except when crouching down for a chore and finding my knees are not that thrilled about bouncing right back up. I have been a writer since the third grade, when my little article about our school class got published in the newspaper. Over the years, I have written articles for newspapers and magazines and a guidebook to our city. I have been married almost 50 years to the same truly marvelous man and I am not sure at all how I got so lucky. Our two daughters, Kate and Marriott, both live five minutes from us with their husbands and each have two daughters of their own. So we are a close and happy family. Again, I have no idea how I came to get these amazing things in my life.

Talk a little about your book.

It’s a memoir about growing up with a sister who was born with a brain injury. Irene has given us so much heartache and in equal measure, so much joy and downright belly laughs, that her stories are really fun to tell, heartache and all. I lead a water exercise class and Irene comes to it now and then and the ladies just love her. When she doesn’t come, they want me to tell them Irene stories because they are so fun. It was on their urging that I began to put these things down on paper and when she threw the chicken at me in the supermarket, I knew I had a good lead, to draw the reader into the hysterical realities of my life. That’s why we titled the book THAT Went Well – because I was always coming home from trying to make Irene’s life work and find myself saying that.

You share some very intimate thought and feelings in your book. How did writing those change your outlook?

You know, I’ve heard this now from other readers, when I go to book clubs to talk about it, and I’m always surprised. To me, what makes a book interesting is the use of intimate thoughts and feelings. Maybe you’re referring to my ranting against insensitive comments made by well-meaning friends and I do go to town on that, don’t I? In fact, my best friend in the world doesn’t have a lot of patience with Irene because she’s never had to deal with this in her life or anywhere in her family and she is one of the ones I mention (I make her anonymous, of course) in the book when I say there are people who get it and people who don’t and I get very steamed at folks who tell parents or siblings what to do when they’re not living it.

Did it change my outlook to write it? Nope. Still steamed. Sorry. These folks need to learn some compassion and kindness.

Why did you decide to write this story?

First, because my water class mermaids insisted that I do. Second, to try to show as many readers as I can find what it feels like to have this in your family. Because it isn’t all tragedy and they should know that. It isn’t all fun, either, and of course, we all still wish it had happened to the neighbors and not us. Third, I put this all down so I could get on with other aspects of my life that I want to write about. I really truly don’t want my life to be all about my sister and thanks to a great staff of companions, it isn’t. So getting it down and done is a way of telling the world (my little world, anyway) the whole story and now, if anyone needs to know how Irene came to be how she is and how I came to be how I am, I can just say, “Read the book.” Fourth reason I wrote the book is to reach out and hold the hands of other siblings who live with this, to let them know that I think it’s perfectly fine to be angry, sad and also doubled up with laughter when our special needs siblings say or do things that are funny. It’s also fine to feel guilty as hell, which we seem to do daily, because we came out normal and our brother or sister did not. And then I loved exploring what the hell “normal” is.

Is there anything in particular you’d like the reader to learn from your book?

Oh, dear. I think I just put that in the last answer. But I’ll add that if you are a sibling or a parent, I highly, highly recommend buying yourself a nice notebook and a pen you really like and each night, or whenever you can, write in it what is happening with the special needs member of your family and how you feel about it: the joys, the anger, the guilt. It seems to help to put it down and believe me, your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be grateful that you did. I didn’t put that in the book, but that’s what I think now.

Are you working on any projects now?

I have two projects that I’d love to really finish before I’m 80 and forgetting my name and where my shoes are: one is a collection of essays about life, love, sex and how to get spots out of tablecloths, all dedicated to my grandchildren; and the other is a novel about my people and my city, Salt Lake City. My great grandmother walked here with a handcart when she was 12 and I have had one foot in the past all my life, hearing the stories about that family. So it’s important to me to get it down on paper my way. I have so many cousins who know the story, too, and we each have a different version, of course! I hope I can find the right way to tell it and, believe me, I’ve been struggling with it.

Where can readers learn more about “That Went Well?”

Thanks for asking! My website has photos, videos, talks and my blog, which I write at least once a week.

Thank you so much for being here today, Terrell. This has, indeed, been very special for me and, I hope, for my readers!


Yvette Kelly said...

Wow what a great interview.She sounds like a wonderful lady and an inspiration to the fact that you are as young as you feel.I could just feel her vibrancy in her answers.I am getting this book right now if its on kindle otherwise I will try and get it from my bookstore.I am going to tweet this post.It is close to the end of Sunday here in SA and this interview was the perfect end to a good weekend.

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