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Adoptee Memoirs—A Growing Genre [Or: Why We Need More] Part 1, A Conversation with Deanna Doss Shrodes

by Laura on August 18th, 2014

“Oh, doesn’t every adoptee have a memoir to hawk these days? They’re simply popping up everywhere!”

from freedigitalphotos.net

from freedigitalphotos.net

Laura—Have you heard anyone make this flippant comment? I have, and at first I was taken aback. I thought, well, I have a memoir, so I guess I should just shut-up about it, because people must be sick of hearing about them.

Then I thought some more, and I started to get riled up. What the heck is wrong with the relatively recent proliferation of adoptee memoirs? They’re certainly doing a heck of a lot more good than the rabbit-like multiplication of vampire-themed young adult series.

Deanna, you have an adoptee memoir coming out soon. What do you think of all this?

 

Deanna Face_Laura DennisDeanna Doss Shrodes—As you might imagine, I definitely have strong feelings on this. Not just as an adoptee who has an adoptee memoir coming out soon, but just in general.

First of all, everyone on the planet has a story and if they have the time and inclination to write a book about it, I say go for it.

How many people do you know who say, “Someday, I’m going to write a book!”?

A LOT.

If I had a dime for every person who has ever said that to me, I’d be able to go on a dream vacation.

Okay, so the truth is, most people don’t follow through on writing books. A small percentage of the population follows through on this intention in comparison to all the people who say they are going to do it. When someone has the courage and fortitude to actually follow through, whether adoptee or not, I say kudos to them!   They actually DID what everyone else is just yapping their jaws about.

When I hear, “Doesn’t every adoptee have a memoir to hawk these days? They’re popping up everywhere!” one word comes to mind:

Jealousy.

There are jealous people for two reasons:

  1. Those who are jealous because someone else actually did what they didn’t do while they lay on the couch watching Netflix.
  2. Those who are jealous because they also have a memoir and are critical of those they may perceive as competition.

And really, both reasons are stupid.

If you’re jealous because you’re lazy, well…get off your butt. Do something positive to change lives for the better.

If you’re jealous because you are threatened by others receiving attention other than yourself, well that’s a spiritual problem right there. Get some Jesus. Get over yourself.

To affirm one person’s story is not to put another’s down. It’s incumbent on the one upset about the plethora of stories to do the changing, not the role of those writing the stories to stop.

 

Laura—I feel for those who are jealous and perhaps don’t even realize it. Look at adoptee blogs, too. Before online diaries and blogs, how many opportunities did we have to connect with other adoptees? Now there are new adoptee blogs popping up every day, and that’s a good thing.

Hi. My name is Laura. I'm an adult adoptee.

I get it, though. Some feel that having so many adoptee memoirs and blogs dilutes the message. Like too many reality star tell-alls; enough is enough.

In this new age of e-books and indie publishing, however, well-written, properly edited books DO have a place in the market.

More importantly: for so long, adoptees were silent.

We were the “good adoptees,” accepting our role in our adoptive families—not searching (or searching in secret), refusing to acknowledge that DNA means anything at all, trying our darnedest to fit in “as if we were born” to them.

We expressively didn’t tell our stories, because

  1. We didn’t realize we had a “story” at all. Our parents were told by the agencies and “experts” to raise adopted children as if they were biological; and adoptees dutifully followed in the same vein. How is it a story, if our adoptedness is supposedly completely normal, not discussed or acknowledged?
    .
  2. In telling our stories, our truth, we risked the very lives and relationships to which we’d worked so hard to belong.

Most adoptees I know who are working on their memoir could care less how many books are sold. They want to write a true and well-executed book. More than that, they want to own their story. Speaking from personal experience, I can’t emphasize how empowering (and terrifying!) this is.

 

Deanna—Agree with you completely. It’s not about book sales, it’s about so much else—catharsis, power, bravery, courage, and truth!

As you know I first wrote my story on my blog, for all these reasons and more. It was terrifying and empowering. But it was also enlightening. Writing my story shone the light of truth on who was really with me. There were people in my life who didn’t really care about me and only utilized me as some kind of benefit in their rendition of my life story. My husband often says that we feel pain over losing people in our lives, not realizing we never really had them and lost who or what we thought they were.

In writing an adoptee blog or memoir you probably will lose some people. But did you ever really have them? And, what you gain is reality and the ability to live true without fear anymore. What a trade off!

*  *  *  *  *

Head over to Adoptee Restoration TODAY to read Part 2 of this post!

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24 Comments
  1. larahentz permalink

    I agree as someone who "did" write a memoir – but honestly I didn't care what anyone thought – I was isolated during the 5 years it took to write it. I had hundreds of drafts. I was changing as I was writing it. But when it came out, I realized I shared so much, that scared me! I had to overcome a new fear – what people will think of me. So I moved past that. So yes, its time for many more adoptees to sit down and write their stories. It's life-changing. And it will change and overhaul the adoption industry overall. It's time!

  2. Laura Dennis permalink

    Yes — it changes us, and it helps to change the industry — I completely agree! Thanks for commenting!!

  3. familyadvocate permalink

    It is not just "recently." They have been for many,many years. And also fiction with an adoption twist.

    With rare exception, I find most to be probably therapeutic but self-indulgent and here is what I tell anyone who asks me if they should write their memoir – adoptee or not: If it will be helpful to you, do it! But it do knowing that other than your family and friends there is no "market" for a memoirs unless it is a famous person or you have done something truly remarkable. Searching and finding you parents – even when you find a famous parent as one such memoir author I know of did, it is not going to SELL….UNLESS you are a really, really exceptionally good writer, on the level of Jane Jeong Trenka.

    So, if you are interested in pursuing it as a hobby, or it will help you therapeutically, go for it. But do not be under the impression that you will be on Oprah or make any money publishing it. You will self-publish and it will COST you money.

    And NO, I am NOT jealous!!! I am not an adoptee, I am birth mother and author of two books and dozens of published articles, NONE of which are autobiographical. My writing on adoption in investigational journalism into the corruption.My most recent book is THE STORK MARKET: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry.

    Mirah Riben, http://works.bepress.com/Mirah_riben

    • maryanne permalink

      Completely agree with Mirah on this subject, and by the way her investigative journalism books are very good and useful to those wishing to reform adoption. Yes, everyone should write as therapy, if they feel the need, but as Mirah has stated, most adoption memoirs, by either mothers or adoptees, have a very small readership among the already converted, and do little to influence those not personally connected to adoption. I am a mother who surrendered a child, and fairly decent writer, but I would never write a personal memoir. I am not a professional writer, although I have written for adoption reform publications and write poetry. Most people who write adoption memoirs have never written anything else, and as they are self-published, have no professional editing, and it shows. Also, most have never even read what is already out there and good, like BJ Lifton's books. Some have never even read many books of any kind, but think they can write.

    • Ellen permalink

      If only you, and everyone else, knew the endless numbers of adoptive moms out here longing for information they can use to help their adoptees in their journey to wholeness. We need to hear the stories of the adoptee… How else will we ever learn?

      • familyadvocate permalink

        Ellen, there is excellent TIMELESS literature by professional writers that explain very well the adoptee condition. I recommend any book by BJ LIfton, and for insight into what it feels like tio be internationally adopted inoparticular books by Jane Jeong Trenka.

        Again, most of the memoirs I have reviewed were purely self-indulgent and not informative. There are so many other sources available.

        I recommend adoptive and pre-adoptive parenrts become involved in adoptee support groups. There are many online groups, blogs and facebook pages that will give you insight into the feelings of adoptees. become involved and chat with adoptees at any of these online locations. I also recommend you attend an adoptee rights rally, to find our details see: http://www.adopteerightscoalition.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/AdopteeRightsCoalition

        Here are more great resources to read and get involved speaking with adoptees, where you will hear from a lot more than one person writing one book:

        poundpuplegacy.org/
        landofgazillionadoptees.com/ http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/ http://www.thenotsosecretlifeofanadoptee.com/ https://www.facebook.com/AdoptionNews

  4. stricklandp permalink

    I wrote my adoption memoir because I had a good story with a "twist" in the plot and as something for my children…a complete history….something I wasn't able to grow up with. The adopted one was fine, but I wanted a history all of my own. I wanted my kids to have it all! It was therapeutic for working out some unresolved grief over the loss of some people in my life.

    Oh, speaking of fiction w an adoption theme, I just finished Emily Griffin's Where We Belong. I'm also almost done with Y by Marjorie Celona. Both are well-written with great characters. P.

  5. I disagree with Mirah that a memoir will only be bought by family and friends (I can't imagine my family actually wanting to read mine! LOL). I see the value in adoptee memoirs as this: connection and understanding within the adoption community. As someone who has been part of a new adoption support group, I see the value of passing along each others' memoirs and anthologies as a learning tool for adoptive parents. I read other people's memoirs to understand my own adoption journey better. I have read memoirs for the purpose of learning better search techniques, understanding how to use DNA in searching, for purposes of hearing another's viewpoint, and for connecting with those adoptee authors after I have read their books (sometimes for purposes of book reviews) and more recently to invite them to an anthology. We are all connected and especially as adoptees with a common goal, our voice is more powerful when more of us are speaking out. These memoirs are historical as well–some day all things Baby Scoop Era will be in a museum and be a thing of the past when we finally come to an understanding that the way we did adoption at that time in history is not the best way for coming generations. Write on, adoptees!

  6. This is a really important discussion in general for writing teachers. I know at least two who know all about the extreme universality in the difficulty inherent in granting their students permission to write "their truth". It's a struggle to counter the all too prevalent charge of "you are not important enough to merit a memoir", and "your story doesn't matter". I'm not a bit surprised that you two get down to it – Everybody's story is important! Thank you for addressing this in terms of adoptees who maybe are set up at the get-go to feel as if they don't matter enough by the very history they need to write. I'll echo, Lynn: Write on, adoptees!

  7. Kathleen permalink

    Will you post a list of recent adoptee memoirs at the end of your second blog article on this subjeçt?

  8. ellecuardaigh permalink

    Writing my story was very therapeutic and necessary. It wasn't just for me, to release, it was so my daughters might understand me better. My life was and is so different from theirs. And I do feel I have a story to tell.

    When I was first searching, there were precious few books written by adoptees. I *needed* those narratives. I needed the connection. So I believe others still need to know "I'm not the only one."

    ~Elle Cuardaigh

  9. Lavender Luz permalink

    I have learned so much about parenting from reading adoptee memoirs. Including yours, Laura!

  10. ellecuardaigh permalink

    PS, in regards to Mirah's comment about only family and friends reading a memoir: With the exception of my daughters, none of my family members will ever know I wrote it. Not adopted, not birth, not married…none of them. Because they're in it, but with assumed names. Writing under a nom de plume and changing all the names was very freeing. I was able to really say what I needed to say, because there would be no critiquing by family members. Only a few close friends know about the book, mainly online friends.

    I told my daughters they can hand out copies at my funeral.

  11. eagoodlife permalink

    My family rarely read what I write and I'm happy with that. I don't need them to and as long as I connect with other adoptees and have their understanding that is all to me. If we write a memoir for ourselves or others it matters little as long as we write it. I applaud all the adoptees who have published their memoirs, poetry and adoption 'fiction' -like Jeanette Winterson who inserted a character into her life story because the plot seemed to need it! As long as we feel free to own our own stories and tell them in our own way we have achieved a great deal. Don't let's allow non-adoptees to tell us how to do it!!

    • LorettaYounger permalink

      The point is, Winterson is a giant. She can write rings around everybody on the adoption blogosphere. Most of these memoirs are unreadable. Just because you think you have a story to tell doesn't mean it deserves to be published–or even that it will help the cause of adoption reform. Self-publication has markedly devalued the impact of the written word.

  12. familyadvocate permalink

    It seems that many who are replying to my comment are not reading it accurately and are re-acting.

    #1. I said what I said about: "anyone who asks me if they should write their memoir – adoptee or not." I repeat adoptee or not. I give this same advise to those who think thy have written the great American novel, as well, BTW.

    #2. When I said that your memoir would be of most interest to friends and family, your children are family!

    Yes, there are adoptees – and mothers – who are new to the post-adoption community who are like sponges and will read anything and everything they can get their hands on and may come across your book. But I stand by my major point, which is about them not being MARKETABLE. Self-published writers are in the same category as singers, song-writers and musicians who may be VERY TALENTED but are stuck singing at local coffee houses or bars and may have a following who buy their CDs, but….

    If they – and you – feel passionate about their art they should not peruse it. But they all keep their day jobs! Writing is likewise an art. Not well paid a gig. Today, self-publishing is as easy and inexpensive as cutting a DC. So go for it! But do not be under the mis-perception that it's going to sell or change anything about adoption.

    BJ Lifton who MaryAnne mentioned was not just an adoptee. She was a psychologist and wrote books that broke ground on insights into the emotional and behavioral condition of being adopted. Her books ("Lost and Found" & "Twice Born") are classics and still inform the practice of adoption and are insightful to all who read them. Trenkas books are sheer poetry and give voice to all international and/or inter-racial adoptees.

    I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, it's just that I have been asked to critique MANY MANY memoirs over the decades I have been involved in adoption and this is my overall opinion on this topic base don a great deal of experience.

  13. I'm thrilled to see so many adoptees bravely putting their stories into print. Sure, they're not all literary masterpieces, but I think that the more adoptee memoirs are published, the greater the odds are of reaching the general public outside of the adoption community. Think about how many books there are on World War II, the Holocaust, slavery, child abuse, drug addiction, cancer, etc. Some of these topics have become a genre due to the sheer number of narratives that have been published. We need more adoptee memoirs! And, yes, we need more of them to be well-written, to touch on the universal human issues inherent in the state of being adopted, to reach into the hearts of those who have never before considered what it might be like to walk in our shoes. If you have the urge to write your story, find a local writing group, find a good editor, find some folks who will give you honest feedback before you publish. But keep writing! We need your voice!

  14. I think for those of us who have written memoirs, (mine not yet released) is a story that we must tell. I have a unique perspective having lived all points of the adoption triad; adoptee, birth mother and adoptive mother. I have a blog,
    shenamedyoudonna,blogspot.com where I share some excerpts from the memoir, She Named You Donna, and thoughts that I share on "adoption issues" I have faced.

  15. I'm excited to see such a variety of adoptees courageously putting their stories into print. Indeed, they're not all abstract artful culminations, however I imagine that the more adoptee journals are distributed, the more prominent the chances are of arriving at the overall population outside of the selection group. Contemplate what number of books there are on World War II, the Holocaust, subjection, tyke ill-use, drug compulsion, tumor, and so on. Some of these points have turned into a class because of the sheer number of accounts that have been distributed. We require more adoptee journals! Also, yes, we require a greater amount of them to be elegantly composed, to touch on the all inclusive human issues inborn in the condition of being received, to venture into the hearts of the individuals who have at no other time considered what it may be similar to stroll in our shoes. In the event that you have the urge to compose your story, discover a neighborhood composing gathering, discover a great editorial manager, discover a few people who will provide for you genuine input before you distribute. At the same time continue composing! We require your voice!

  16. Lynn Assimacopoulos permalink

    My new book called "Separated Lives" is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh, PA) http://www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes & Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

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