Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Author Spotlight: Josephine Harwood, "Empathy"

During this month of #AlzAuthors and Caregiver Appreciation Month,  I've been getting to know a few other authors of books on the caregiver experience. This is a topic with many voices. A quick search for "caregiver books" on Amazon reveals 7,000+ titles, a variety of books in many genres: memoir, guidebooks, fiction, children's books. There's something for everyone. One of these authors contacted me soon after #AlzAuthors Ending the Isolation of Alzheimer's went live. Josephine Harwood's past experience as a caregiver led her to write a novel, Empathy, a contemporary romance about a woman who falls for the man who hires her to care for his disabled mother. This is not a book about Alzheimer's or dementia; it's about the aftermath of a catastrophic stroke. It's a quick read that explores the issues and challenges of providing 24/7 care to a loved one at home, with a sweet, though tempestuous, romance. 

Welcome to Adventures in Publishing Josephine! Tell us, why did you write a book about caregiving?
Thank you so much, Marianne, for this opportunity to share my book, Empathy. I have been a family caregiver for over the past twenty-six years.  I understand how being a caregiver can feel a little more than overwhelming.  Some people can write about their lives and they do it well.  I did not want to write a story about my life as a caregiver.  I wanted to create a fictional family dealing with the emotional fallout after their loving mother suffers a stroke.  Empathy is a roller coaster of emotions involving intense situations and family drama. Many of my readers didn’t even realize they were family caregivers until they read my book.              

That's an interesting comment. So many people go about doing what needs to be done without thinking much about it. It requires a ton of empathy. How did you come up with that title?  
Back in the early Nineties, I took a class to become a certified activities director for a nursing home.  My instructor was a social worker who was very passionate about helping the elderly.  She explained to us, her students, the difference between sympathy and empathy.  I have never forgotten her creative “empathy exercises” that successfully taught us what it might feel like to be an elderly person in a nursing home.  I knew writing this story would be one way I could show my empathy for my fellow family caregiver.  

Can you tell us a little about these exercises?
We had to do the following "empathy" exercises, write down our feelings, and discuss our feelings with the class.  Some of us, including me, had to willingly sit tied to a chair while wearing ear plugs and a scarf over our eyes so we could only see shadows.  Then, other fellow classmates would pretend to be impatient family members or irritated nursing home employees.They would approach you, yell at you because you couldn't hear, and they would physically shake you because you couldn't move. It was a little disturbing because you never knew what someone was going to do to you. We, her students, all worked in a nursing home, and we had to order and eat at least one entirely pureed nursing home meal. She also told us to watch three movies; Patch Adams, Awakenings, and The Doctor.  All three of these movies are excellent examples of empathy. 

My experience in reading these books shows me that the personal story of caregiving has universal messages. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Your loved one did not come with instructions, and you are doing the very best you can.  Be compassionate and understanding but don’t burn yourself out.  Never turn down help and take breaks as often as you can.  You deserve them.         

So true. How much of the book is realistic?
The book is a fictional story, but I confess, some of the scenes are based on my own personal experiences as a family caregiver.  I am certain many of you will relate easily to at least one of the emotionally-charged scenes described in this book.      

What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself through writing?
When something touches me deeply, I have to write about it.  I will write a poem, a song, a play, or a book.  I have learned at an early age that writing is the best outlet for my emotions.   

Thanks for sharing your story, Josephine.

About the Author

When I was fresh out of high school back in the early Eighties, I wanted to be the next Pat Benatar or Joan Jett. I sang in a couple of bands, but neither Pat nor Joan had anything to worry about. Despite my desire to become a famous rock singer, my heart had always held an even deeper passion for writing. Whenever something touched me emotionally whether it was directly or indirectly, I had to write about it. Fast forward to the present; I am married to my high school sweetheart, I am a family caregiver, and I am currently working on my third book. I am very blessed with a life I didn't plan. So, I hope you enjoy reading my books written the only way I know how to write...from my heart. 

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