Howdy my lovelies! Welcome to another edition of Interview FoxSeat featuring author Darcy Leech.
Darcy Leech was born on Blytheville Air Force Base in Arkansas to a mother harboring a hidden genetic disease that would forever shift the family life when Dustin, Darcy’s younger brother, came into the world with congenital myotonic muscular dystrophy. Before meeting her brother, Darcy was told she would live longer than he did and matured quickly as a child living amid medical crisis.
She graduated summa cum laude from Bethany College with majors in English Education and Philosophy, married the love her life and settled into her home town in the middle of the golden wheat fields of Kansas where she has served 8 years as an educator. Darcy is a four year all conference college athlete, A.O. Duer national award winner, published nationally in Quest Magazine, and a Lana Jordan Aspiring Artist Grant winner.
She gave birth to her first son, Eli, three months before her mother’s degenerative muscle disease took Jo Lyn’s ability to breathe. Jo Lyn was to be Eli’s caretaker when Darcy returned to work, but instead, Jo Lyn fed Eli a bottle in her hospital bed while she was hooked to ventilator. Jo Lyn is the strongest woman Darcy will ever know, and From My Mother candidly recounts the love and struggles in a family with a special needs boy and a hardy young girl raised with compassion, fortitude and grace while facing death with a terminal disease.
How about a book blurb:
Riveting, soulful, and courageously told, From My Mother is a meditation on grief, family, genetic disease and also a deeply personal account of the narrator’s coming-of-age amid medical crisis and tragedy to carry on the lessons from her mother to raise her young son. A story of loss, From My Mother is full of life, a story of beginnings as much as endings, a moving book that transforms suffering into art and inspiration. Darcy Leech was born to Jo Lyn Bartz, a mother who carried myotonic muscular dystrophy, a disease 1 in 8500 suffer from. Jo Lyn’s son, Dustin Ryan Bartz, was born with congenital muscular dystrophy with a high enough frequency of protein repeat mutations that of his 13 years of life, every day defied prior medical knowledge. Leech narrates a moving meditation of the enduring mysteries of what dormant harbingers of genetic disease may lurk within, the surprising possibilities in loss, and the deep resilience of the human spirit as the body weakens.
The narrative highlights the relationship between diseased mother and healthy daughter, revealing Jo Lyn as a woman of strength, a caretaker who quietly marched toward her own degenerative weakness, someone grappling for identity while ostracized by an invisible disease, and a resilient spirit who endured holding the child who inherited her genetic misfortune as he took his last breath. From My Mother is the honest story of finding joy through loss, living fully within limitations, and the universal struggle of grappling for identity against the device of innate genetic code through invested love and personal choice. From My Mother leaves the reader pondering the value of genetic testing, the beauty in a disease easy to accept as genetic fault, and the heart wrenching question of when life should be sustained by machine or ended by choice.
Why do you write? I wrote From My Mother first as a process to heal after losing my mother to respiratory failure caused by her genetic disease, myotonic muscular dystrophy. While writing was cathartic for me, I knew there were others like my family out there, more women like me grieving the loss of a parent, wondering how to raise her child well. There are women like my mother who feel alone, that no one understands their rare disease and its silent effects. From My Mother is a true story which needs to be told. As technology advances, more and more people will have to make choices about life support, or have a child who wouldn’t have survived years ago and has a complicated prognosis. More descendants will live as caretakers for their parents or watch their parents die after a long hospital stay. Those feelings are complex. I’m hoping reading the honest revelations of a rare but relatable story means something to those walking similar paths. There are readers out there who need From My Mother. I wrote to reach them.
When did you decide to become a writer? Writing has been my career goal since second grade. Being pragmatic and financially conservative, I was as an English teacher for six years and am currently a technology instructional coach helping teachers integrate technology in the curriculum. I’ve worked as educator thinking “this will help me build skill in my career as a writer.” From My Mother is my first book. I have plans for a trilogy of fiction and a children’s book on similar concepts. I’m hoping From My Mother goes well enough that I make a career of writing.
What genre are your books? From My Mother is an inspirational non-fiction narrative, a memoir on surviving and thriving in a family ravaged by genetic disease. For those interested in the genre, it also serves as a piece of narrative medicine, showing the human emotional and psychology effects of a family affected by a rare, incurable genetic disease. A story of resilience and strength, it is a faith story of a woman who, when she cannot speak because of a tracheostomy in her throat, motioned like a butterfly to tell her family she was ready “fly away home.” Above all, From My Mother is a true story of connection in the human condition, literature worth the read.
What draws you to this genre? This book is part of my calling in life – I feel destined to write it being the healthy daughter of the strongest woman I will ever know who carried a genetic degenerative disease. When my brother passed away when I was 16, I carried a notebook with me everywhere, and I wrote essays to cope with the feelings and mute the stimulus around me. Writing is a survival tactic for me, and so is reading well-written, honest stories I can relate to. I want to offer people in families like mine a story which stares adversity in the face and comes out stronger. I’m drawn to the genre because reading true stories is one of the best ways to learn life’s lessons without having to make the mistakes. I would have been a better person if I could have read a book like From My Mother when I was 15 or 25.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? I wrote often when my mother was in the hospital, but my writing went silent shortly after she passed. I threw myself into daily life and tended to my infant son trying to forget the beeps of the oxygen monitor. My mind wouldn’t rest, and eventually neither would my pen. I shared parts of my story online. One of my mentors and college professors told me I should apply for a Lana Jordan Aspiring Artist Grant with the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission. I did and won a fully funded grant. The grant funding gave me the resources and confidence I needed to land a contract. So, writing for healing is what started me, then the support of people who had read parts of the work helped me finish. The writing was painful. At times I wanted to quit, but I knew there were readers out there who deserved the story. I wrote for them.
Do you write full-time or part-time? I write part-time currently, but I’m hoping to be a career author one day. Currently, I work as an instructional technology coach helping teachers learn how to successfully use technology in the curriculum. I was an AP Language and Composition teacher for six years, and believe in the goals of education and a person’s ability to absorb life lessons from good books. I enjoy working as an educator and appreciate having summers to write.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? I have a 12 week old daughter and four year old son, so my schedule is at the whim of my children. I do some writer tasks while I nurse, like manage my social media via my phone or read a book about marketing. Most of my blogging or longer writing is done after the kids go to bed. Sometimes I steal time, sitting next to my kids with a computer to type a great idea. I really have to squeeze in time during the school year. I have summers off as an educator though, and I use that time to focus on writing. This summer I plan to travel often to make book appearances after the release of From My Mother.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I hired a writing coach to work after I received grant funding. She helped me understand envisioning my potential reader and having the text meet that reader’s needs. I gained skill in using meaningful sensory details to help the reader experience the language. I’m better about evaluating the relevance of details or events to include. After working with my writing coach, I cut almost 10,000 words trying to achieve the most impact per word. The whole process of working with agents and publishers opened my eyes to writing for a specific audience. I’ve gained confidence to know I have a voice worth sharing and content worth reading. That confidence makes me ready to explore mediums like a fictional trilogy or children’s books in the same target audience and theme as my memoir. I have a message worth sharing, and I’m going to branch out in creative mediums to help it be heard.
What have you written? In the process of finding a publisher for From My Mother, I had a chapter excerpt, “Beyond Willpower”, nationally published in the Quest Magazine: http://quest.mda.org/article/beyond-willpower-caring-brother-and-mother-mmd. The comments and new Facebook friends I met helped me know that my honest self-revelation was affecting real people in meaningful ways. After that article was published, I knew I had a worthwhile reason to finish. I also published a Kansas Poem of the Week: https://150kansaspoems.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/mom-dad-and-dustin-on-the-beach-of-the-great-salt-lake-1997-by-darcy-leech/ I wrote that poem in college, and my professor wanted me to seek publication. I refused because the writing is a moving picture of how as a surviving sibling of a terminally ill brother, I lost a bit of my parents too. I didn’t want my mother to read the poem because the piece is an extended metaphor comparing my mother to my lilac “who outlived her Son and weeps”. It conveys my family’s battle with depression and moving forward after losing my 13 year old brother with special needs. I also have a blog where I write about the publishing process, reflections on my family and philosophical musings about genetic diseases and cures.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you? I created an outline for From My Mother seven chapters in. I wrote for healing and purged my feelings onto the paper. I had to tidy up for the readers. My first two chapters experienced a total rewrite once the first full draft of the book was finished. Next time I’d start with an outline. I have a notebook where I keep writing ideas, and I refer to it sometimes for blogs. I have more ideas than time to write, so I try to plan my writing time so the best ideas get the attention.
How do you market your books? My job as an instructional technology coach helps me acquire skills to conquer promotion and marketing in the social media era. I have a professional designed website, an active blog, a growing social media presence and connections with key organizations tied to the target audiences of my book. I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription and made it a goal to read one book a week on marketing or promotion for my book. If I had to sum up my marketing plan in one sentence, I’d say I market resourcefully with a high degree of technology knowledge, a deep social network, and connections with groups and people with a high return on my energy investment because I know they are people like me in ways who will relate.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures? I have three months until my book releases. In the pre-marketing phase I’m trying to strategically create web of connections to make my book launch a success story. I’m trying to do as many things right as I can before launch so word of mouth can spread quickly upon launch. I’m 29 and I’ve had day jobs that built two key skills for me – communication and digital literacy. I’d like to think I’m paving the way for small press authors with some of the ways I’m working to lay the ground work for my book’s audience.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in the future? In trying to get my name out there as an author, I look at my efforts as “good, better, best.” I’ve done some things that are inefficient, but that’s where my technology knowledge comes in handy. I like to try to think strategically about my time and money investments in marketing and maximize my efficiency. I’m not afraid of making mistakes. I’m sure the mistakes will come and I’ll keep working past them.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors? “The best writing is rewriting.” To have a marketable product, you have to spend time in revision. Even once you have a contract, you have to spend time in revision. Don’t expect someone else to catch every error and give you a clean text without you doing the lion’s share of the work. You need to know your text better than anyone else because you’ve read it over so many times. Also, this is the social media era of book marketing. Build a platform with a wide base of social media reach over time. You can’t build a large Facebook account overnight because you’ll run into adding restrictions. You have to make your social media growth feel organic by doing a little each day until you have large accounts. Your tech skills will matter, and marketing really is a set of problem solving and creative thinking exercises to answer questions the generation before us hasn’t answered yet. So put on your thinking cap and try new things.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special? My main character is Darcy Leech, and the special thing she does is narrate in an honest and reflective voice the best and hardest moments of her life. The story isn’t special because of her, but because of her mother and brother and the resilience of her family. You’ll enjoy the narrative voice. I hope by the end you feel like you’re hearing a story from a friend you empathize with and relate to.
Where do your ideas come from? True events and reflection.
What is the hardest thing about writing? It’s a process that takes a good chunk of time which isn’t easy to regulate or schedule, so finding time to get my best thinking on paper can be a challenge. Once my best writing was on paper for From My Mother, time was again an issue as I had to learn patience and perseverance in seeking a publisher and waiting for the book to release. It’s awfully tempting during the process to stick a raw manuscript on CreateSpace and just get something out there. Telling myself to wait on the traditional route was hard when so many Indy authors are having a good go of it. I still want to write a short book to self-publish and learn about the market.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Writing From My Mother was a healing process. The hardest part was writing through the tears to have coherent organization and clear details. Revisions were calmer writing time than the first draft. Allowing the emotions to linger in my mind to write let out some feelings I repressed by keeping busy with other things. It was cathartic, but catharsis doesn’t come without struggle.
Which writers inspire you? I taught AP Language and Composition for six years and the texts I read about ten times a piece have noticeable influence on me. I love the narrative voice of Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I appreciate the candor and guilt of John Knowles’ Gene Forrester in A Separate Peace. Martin Luther King Jr. is probably the most inspiring author for me because even today his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” creates empathy and awareness through rich knowledge of rhetorical strategies such as anaphora, zeugma, allusion and masterful balancing of ethos, pathos and logos. I’m drawn to the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing and appreciate the adventure of man vs. nature in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Soren Kierkegaard is my favorite literary philosopher and I’m inspired by his ability to create unique narrative voices through pseudonym. My most important direct inspiration in writing From My Mother is Rachel Simon, whose memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister is a masterfully written piece by a high functioning woman who is sibling to a beautiful soul with special needs. I affiliate with Simon because I see in her something I hope to become – a role model for those in family’s affected by disability who spreads awareness and empathy through thoughtful, honest writing which wrestles with the joys and struggles of living life differently.
What do you do to get book reviews? I found beta readers via interest groups linked to concepts in themes in the book. I would link a blog post written towards an audience like those in families affected by a terminal, incurable disease like in the book and if someone said “I can’t wait to read your book!” in response, I’d ask him or her if he or she would be interested in an Advanced Reader Copy. All I asked in return was a written review on Goodreads. My early reviews from this method were in an exact target audience for the book from people who already had indicated a positive view of the book. I’m going to market with some strong written reviews on Goodreads. My blog and social media connections, which are honest and caring friendships made with people like me, help me find readers willing to do me the favor of writing a review.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far? In small number, great. However, I would like to expand the scope and frequency of the reviews. Being connected to a reader network would be great.
You mentioned you’re writing a new story. How about a teaser? Imagine your loved one carries a terminal, incurable disease. Research and development from scientists, who shifted gears after a moratorium on embryonic stem cell research, has shown a cure through genetically altering mice. Your loved one has a chance at a cure if you allow a foreign scientist to inject him with a virus which will attack the construction of his DNA so that the DNA breaks and rebuilds, hopefully without the genetic flaw which causes the disease. What would you do? Follow the life of Hope Ceinwen is his quest to survive being born with an incurable disease and the ramifications of researching cures which alter the genetic code in a trilogy of trial, redemption and impact.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why? My mother. I owe her too much for the patience I gave her. She was the strongest woman I will ever know. She died of weakening muscles. Her great faith was revealed in her great struggle. I aspire to love my children with the love she gave to me. We may live differently, but she is my role model in hope and compassion.
Who is your least favorite character and why? From My Mother is a story of man versus nature. My least favorite character is the antagonist, the disease that took my mother and brother – myotonic muscular dystrophy. Like all good antagonists though, I have to admit a part of my heart loves myotonic muscular dystrophy because the unique lives of my brother and mother helped me become who I am today. A blessing and a curse, the disease was part of who they were and part of why they are no longer with me.
If your book were made into a movie, whom would you cast? Emma Watson playing me as the narrator would be delightful. (This is budget free daydreaming, right?) Angelina Jolie would understand the threat of deadly genetic disease. Before the disease started affecting the strength of my mother’s facial muscles or her ability to exercise, she would have resembled Jolie. Robert Downy Jr. would by play my father and it would be his most touching role yet, reminiscent of Robin Williams in Patch Adams. My brother would have to be played by a child actor with congenital myotonic dystrophy. I don’t know any other way the directors could capture that face and body movements…
What is your next project? I plan to work on a fictional trilogy about incurable genetic disease and a children’s book aimed at sibling caretakers in family’s affected by disability.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why? Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – Owen is like the voice I hope to give my brother though my writing. He looks and speaks differently and has a shorter projected life span than his narrator friend, John. Owen Meany stands out from those around him not just because of the way he was born, but how he thinks and acts. Owen is a genius, a gifted writer, wise beyond his years, a loyal friend, and in ways a typical angsty teenager. My favorite part of Owen, though, is how his unshakable faith in a divine creator shapes his world view and leads him to his tragic yet beautiful fate. Owen is special, and I’m attracted to the paradox of fortune and misfortune in his grateful worldview which allows him to believe he is the way he was meant to be and that things happen for a reason.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why? I would choose the scientist who discovers a safe and sustainable cure for myotonic muscular dystrophy because I hope it happens in my lifetime.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be? Everyone would spend more time reading well-written true life stories for edification and enjoyment. One of our best ways to learn is in books, and I think entertainment that is not edifying occupies too many timetables which would be better served by true and worthwhile lessons a good memoir can offer, whether physical or digital.
What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer? With From My Mother my greatest lesson about the writing process is that completing the manuscript is only the beginning. From this point forward, I am in the business of authorship. My online presence, my schedule of events and my platform are designed from my first book with my fifth book in mind. I’m launching a career as a writer and that means I’m learning every day about skills around being a writer like social media management, blogging effectively, commission percentages, targeted advertising and scheduling. I’m grateful for this lesson though, because I beginning to believe I could make both an impact and a living as a writer.
What is one thing you hate about being a writer? Writing about myself, I often reveal weaknesses, insecurities, guilt and difficult emotions. I blog and share through social media. If people are interested in knowing more about me after meeting me in person, they can get to know me quickly and authentically through my writing. Sometimes I feel at a bit of a disadvantage in creating relationships because my writing exposes intimate stories quickly and the comfort in creating a face to face friendship isn’t always easy when one of the friends is a compulsive sharer. So if there is anything I hate about being a writer, it’s that sometimes I’m awkward in making friends.
Tell us something unique about you. I may be one of a handful of authors ever who has spent time as an AP English high school teacher and an Instructional Technology Coach. My day jobs in education I’ve chosen specifically with the career goal of getting paid to build skill as an author. Because of this experience, I’m well positioned to use the social media era to find, connect and engage my audience through multiple tech. mediums and skillfully crafted rhetoric.
Is there anything else you would like to add? I spoke at my first event for From My Mother for free three months before release. I’m volunteering my time more as a guest speaker. I’d love to come speak to your group if you are in the Great Bend or central Kansas Area.
Thanks so much Darcy for sharing with me! I do hope you come by again when your new book is ready for shouting about.
To learn more about Darcy and her work follow the links below: