Monday, June 8, 2015

Author Spotlight: Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia

Author Spotlight: Vicki Tapia, 
author of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir

Vicki Tapia is one of the authors I've teamed up with to promote Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month. Vicki's book, Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia, is the painfully honest story of Vicki's parents, who suffered from dementia for many years. Vicki was their primary caregiver. Her mom had Alzheimer's and her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease-related dementia. Vicki chronicled the days she spent with her parents caring for them in their home and then throughout assisted living facilities and nursing homes until their deaths. These diaries became the foundation of this book, which is as personal, detailed, and brave a memoir of life with Alzheimer's that I've read. Please welcome Vicki to Adventures in Publishing.

Hi Marianne, and thank you for inviting me to be interviewed for your blog.

It's always a pleasure to talk to a fellow author, Vicki. Tell us, were you born a writer or did it evolve?

A friend once brought me a memento from a trip she’d taken to China, a bookmark with my first name, “Vicki,” written in formal Chinese calligraphy using 2 characters. One of the characters was translated as “preserve” and I wondered how this translation of my name related to me. The next logical step was to look up “preserve” in the dictionary, where I found the definition “to maintain” or “keep up.” I was surprised how well that resonated with me, as I’ve always delighted in “preserving” memories, with both words and pictures. I believe I may have been born a writer, particularly when I open the over-sized drawer in my home office and behold over 4 decades of journals, in all shapes, sizes and colors. And, oh, someday, perhaps I’ll share the translation of that other Chinese character….

I'm sure all of us would love to know that! How old were you when you first realized you’d been “born a writer?”

Reading, penmanship, grammar…I remember those being favorite subjects in primary school, but my earliest memories of creating stories probably began around the age of 12 or 13. That was when I began to craft what I perceived were fascinating stories, often about romance, most left unfinished when I grew bored with the process. Then, I received a diary for a birthday present in junior high, developed a routine for condensing my day into 4 short lines and kept at it for a couple of years, before eventually realizing a 5-year diary was an inadequate way to express myself. There simply wasn’t enough room to express all my thoughts and dreams, let alone examine a teenager’s ruminations about the meaning of life.

What types of writing have you done over the years?

When I was 16, I began to keep a journal, which has remained a constant throughout my life. Besides journaling about life’s ups and downs, I always take a journal when I travel and write daily entries, something I started with my first trip to Europe in 1974. My foray into technical writing was an indirect result of my chosen profession in the health care field, where I worked for over 30 years as a lactation consultant. Working together with a colleague, we began writing for lactation journals in 1996 and the writing, editing, rewriting and publishing process helped prepare me for what came next. Re-writing and editing my journal to transform it from a description of our family’s dementia journey into a conversational story was my next adventure in writing and also how I became captivated by the whole book-writing process. Since the publication of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia, I’ve immersed myself in writing something completely different.

I loved your book and look forward to reading more from you. Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

I am writing a work of historical fiction, based on the life of my great-grandmother (1870-1959). It takes place between the years 1887-1941, set in both Michigan and Montana. She had a rather tumultuous life for the time period, having been married and divorced 3 times by 1926. Nearly 20 years ago, when researching family history, I obtained a copy of the divorce trial transcripts from her first marriage, filled with all the vile accusations and lurid details, around which several scenes are written. Those transcripts have always intrigued me, and in their own way, begged me to write their story. The novel follows actual births, deaths, marriages and divorces. Women at that time faced many of the same issues that women face today, although with far fewer rights, legal or otherwise. My novel details a woman’s lack of opportunity and choice when faced with divorce, including loss of child custody, even when there is documented abuse. As women, I think it’s a good reminder about how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

That sounds fascinating. How do ideas come to you?

Writing is an interesting process. Obviously, the ideas for my first book came directly from my journal, written during the time of my parents’ dementia. The ideas for my current book are twofold. My general outline comes from the concrete information I’ve collected about my great-grandmother and the time period in which she lived. Using an outline of dates, I’ve built my story around these facts, embellishing them to create a storyline. Also, in my research of the time period, once in a while I accidentally came across something interesting (a tornado, for example, that destroyed 30 houses in my great-grandmother’s town) and intertwined that factual information around an imagined scene that will move my narrative forward. Secondly, my ideas manifest completely from my imagination. I visualize an outcome for the scene and then write toward that particular outcome. Sometimes the ideas flow with minimal roadblocks and other times I’m unsure exactly how to get from here to there. I may contemplate the scene for minutes or days, but eventually, an idea on how to move forward arrives in my consciousness. And, yes, it’s most likely to happen when I let it go, only to be awakened in the middle of the night or early in the morning with the precise idea for which I’d been searching.

I understand how that works too well! What do you love most about writing?

I love sitting down in front of the keyboard and creating. It’s what I look forward to each and every day! I love words, combining them into interesting sentences, looking for the perfect word to use for a description and then reading those words after they’re all put together into a paragraph. I love re-reading and re-wording thoughts, fine-tuning them for a future reader’s eyes.

You, Vicki, were definitely born a writer! Can you share a peek at your story?

Certainly! Here’s an excerpt:

I arrived at my mother’s apartment at 2 p.m. one afternoon. Upon knocking and hearing her invitation to come in, I opened the door and was greeted with her shocked face, as if she couldn’t fathom why I was there. She cautiously ventured, “What are you doing here? It’s time for bed.” As my focus returned, I realized my mother was sitting in front of me, on her bed, completely naked.

“Look outside,” I replied as gently as I could, “Is it dark out?”

She turned and gazed out her window at the clear, azure blue sky. “No,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

“You can go to bed when it gets dark outside, okay?”

I was immediately struck with the same recurring thought that, in so many ways, dealing with demented people is like living with toddlers.

The administrator at Tendercare Cottages informed me that following a move to a new facility, it takes the elderly about 90 days to adjust. It had been more than 90 days, and Mom had still not adjusted. If anything, the move to Tendercare Cottages seemed to have accelerated Mom’s decline, as her dementia was more and more noticeable. The latest development was her declaration she could no longer read.

“There is no sense in bringing me any more magazines, I can’t read anymore,” she said with resignation in her voice.

What could I possibly say in response to that? I looked at her with compassion, but couldn’t stop thinking about how one of her few remaining pleasures was now fleeting. I supposed I no longer needed to continue the search for her eyeglasses, which had mysteriously gone missing.

Book Description:

Somebody Stole My Iron  chronicles a family’s journey down the rabbit hole that is dementia. After Vicki’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, followed closely by her father with Parkinson’s disease-related dementia, the 3 of them embarked on a sojourn that was heartbreaking and painful and at times, sadly humorous. What began as a diary to help the author cope, morphed into an inspirational memoir, filled with personal lessons learned along the way, ideas/tips for managing the day-to-day ups and downs of dementia, as well as useful information from experts within the field of Alzheimer’s research. This conversational narrative, sprinkled with both laughter and tears, offers a sense of hope to those who lives have been intimately affected by dementia, letting them know they aren’t alone.

Purchase Somebody Stole My Iron 
(Available in paperback and Kindle):

About the Author:
Somebody Stole My Iron  is the first book-length publication for author Vicki Tapia, who in a former life, wrote for lactation journals. She retired from her career as a lactation consultant to direct her energies toward writing. She is currently at work on a new book, which will focus on women’s issues at the turn of the 20th century. Vicki is the mother of 3 grown children, and Nana to 7 grandsons and a granddaughter. She lives in south central Montana with her husband and mini-Schnauzer. You are quite likely to find a picture of Vicki and her dog on her Twitter feed or Facebook page.


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