The Divining Wand

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Presenting Debutante Kim Stagliano and
All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa

November 01, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Debutante Kim Stagliano has the honor of being the first Class Member of the 2011 Debutante Ball to waltz across the ballroom floor and into bookstores with her memoir, All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism, officially launching today. And ironically the author may be the most reluctant Deb, never imagining her life as it is or that — in a September 1, 2010 post, Wenesday’s with Deb Kim — she would write:

“My book is a “’Kimoir’” (memoir makes me feel O-L-D) and sure to make you laugh, even if you have to grab a tissue once or twice while you read. I started writing in 2003 when my husband Mark was out of work. It was cheaper than therapy and healthier than overdoing the cocktail hour, if you know what I mean. Mark and I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut and have three beautiful daughters – who have an autism diagnosis. Mia is 15, Gianna is 14 and Bella is 9. Our lives are anything but typical, never boring (how I long for boredom!) and often upside down and inside out.”

How did her life story evolve? Here’s a synopsis:

How one woman raises three autistic daughters, loses one at Disneyworld, stays married, Has sex, bakes gluten-free, goes broke, and keeps her sense of humor.

“Dr. Spock? Check. Penelope Ann Leach (Remember her?)? Check. What to Expect When You’re Expecting? Check. I had a seven-hundred–dollar Bellini crib for God’s sake!” So begins Kim Stagliano’s electrifying, hilarious tale of her family’s journey raising three daughters with autism. With her funny, startling, and illuminating first book, Stagliano joins the ranks of bestselling memoirists like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. With her willingness to lay everything on the table—family, friends, and enemies to basement floods to birth days to (possible) heroin addictions—she eviscerates and celebrates the absurd.

Whether she’s going commando to rescue a daughter from a potentially embarrassing situation or accidentally stealing electric fans, she and her family are seemingly always on the edge of a Stagtastrophe. From her love of Howard Stern to her increasing activism in the autism community and exhaustive search for treatments that will help her daughters, she explores her life with vigor and humor. Always outspoken, often touching, and sometimes heart breaking, Kim Stagliano is a powerful new voice in comedic writing—her “Kimoir” (as she calls it) will be a must-read for everyone within the autism community. More than that, it’s the debut of a new voice that will entertain everyone who reads it.

Unlike other books on autism, Kim promises hers is different because “it’s very funny.” And it is, despite these two sobering statistics: In 2010 there will be 1 in 110 children diagnosed with some form of autism, and couples with an autistic child(ren) have an 80% divorce rate. Yes, it’s a bit overwhelming and yet it makes for the best of reality reading. In fact think of the “Kimoir” as better than anything reality TV has to offer since the Stagliano’s experiences are unscripted, unedited, and Kim is not Mother Teresa. As she explains:

“The first and biggest difference between my book and many of the others out there is that it’s very funny. My style and voice lend themselves to writing humor, even when the topic isn’t all that funny. Also, mine combines our family life outside of autism – meaning our financial trials, including when my husband lost his job twice in one year. That was fun….”

Now here’s an example of a “fun” Stagastrophe from an Excerpt of All I Can Handle.

And be sure to read the heartfelt Reviews.

There is no cure for autism — which has been under the field of psychiatry since it was first seen and defined by Leo Kanner in the 1930s. However Kim, in her role of Mom/advocate/activist, believes parents should explore every option for their child, even when it’s difficult (like radically changing their diet.) While all this author wants is the best for those with autism, there are those who condemn her efforts towards hope. Still the “Kimoir” is not meant to be controversial, rather it was written for readers to understand autism and thus be more accepting of those who have it. In fact the author’s message can be applied to everyone with differences and challenges, particularly in these days of “bullying.” Simply put, Kim’s hope is that the book will promote the following:

“Just follow the Golden Rule. Do unto others…. If you see a behavior that’s funky, like gorgeous Mia sucking her thumb, which she does sometimes, take a second to wonder if Mia might have “’something’” (you don’t have to know it’s autism) instead of staring and making a face in her or my direction. It’s OK to be startled or even aghast at a meltdown or inappropriate behavior, just pause for a moment before reacting. If you’re horrified, I’m horrified times a million and I really appreciate when people are kind. So do my girls, even if they cannot tell you so. They are people – do not refer to them autistic or autistics – any more than I would call someone with cancer, cancerous. Autism is not who they are – it’s what they have.”

Respect is what Kim wants for her girls and the 1 in 110 other children and adults diagnosed with varying degrees of autism. No financial contributions, no sympathy or praise for being a “good Mom.” Instead she faces reality head on and deals with whatever arises with humor, faith, and the knowledge that her daily life will be filled with the unexpected.

Enlightening and entertaining, All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism is a “must read” and even a “feel good” read as Kim and her husband care for their three stunning daughters — yes, there are 24 color pictures — with love and commitment for the long haul.

And, when you do read, consider Kim’s simple wish from a September 15, 2010 post, I’ve Never Given Up Imaginary Friends:

“You’re never alone if you can read.

That’s why every year, when I sit at my children’s IEP meetings (those are planning meetings for special ed, my three girls have autism) I say, “’I just want my girls to read.’” I know that if they can develop some level of reading skill, even if it’s “’just’” a 4th grade level, they will never be alone and will always have friends too.”

Book Giveaway: This week Skyhorse Publishing has generously provided The Divining Wand with two Hardcover copies of Kim Stagliano’s All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa to be given away in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Robin Antalek and The Summer We Fell Apart

June 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Just as that luscious lemon tree gracing the cover of Robin Antalek’s debut novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, requires nurturing, careful tending, and a deep root system, so too does a family tree. Without a solid trunk, both trees’ branches will grow but will they mature and remain forever attached?

Whether or not the author considered the lemon/family tree symbolism — in addition to the symbolism that appears in the book — is unknown. However, without question, the following family home movies were created to serve as an introduction to the novel of the Haas family.

The germ of Robin’s book idea came from her desire to tell the story of a large family, complete with the two younger siblings who leaned on and acted as parents to each other. As for the older sister and brother…well their twisted relationship almost mirrored that of their parents’. Sound confusing? It’s quite believable given that abandonment and neglect are strong themes as is the search for love in all its many forms. There is also the idea of forgiveness, which ultimately leads back to all members of the Haas family, even their mother and father.

To better understand, here’s the synopsis:

Every family is crazy in their own special way, and the Haas family is no exception. The Summer We Fell Apart is the story of four siblings: Amy, George, Kate, and Finn as they careen into adulthood, trying to make peace with their past, and with each other. 
As the children of a once brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the Haas siblings were raised in a chaotic environment, abandoned into a shadowy adult world made up of equal parts glamour and neglect. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. From Amy’s adolescent yearnings for a “normal” life to George’s search for love and Kate’s struggle to not always be perfect, to the gritty details of Finn’s addictive and destructive behavior, the Haas children come to learn that this family — no matter how ragged and flawed — provides all the hope they need.

Of course there is also News and Praise for the insightful look into complexities of human nature and its needs. For the characters found Robin and demanded their voices to be heard, their own perspectives to be told. In fact this debut novelist admits, “…sometimes the conversations I heard in my head were audible — so audible that I had to drop whatever I was doing at the time to write.”

Indeed the genuine honesty of Amy, George, Kate, and Finn make them so true-to-life that I asked Robin how she managed that?

She replied: “How can I answer your question about getting them so true? Only to say that the voices I heard for each character were so real — at times it was like I was taking dictation. Also – in this book — I went where it made me squirm in my seat. I opened closed doors. I wrote what I felt regardless of the inner critic. I tried to honor the characters of my creation as real living breathing human beings. It’s not all pretty. As a matter of fact it can get stomach turning nasty. But I couldn’t change it if I tried.”

And by relating some of those truths she’s received hate mail regarding sexual preferences. Nevertheless the author says: “Whatever, the complaint — I know that SUMMER and its characters have touched a nerve, readers are vested in their futures — and to me — that means I’ve done my job as a writer.”

To provide a complete picture of the family from every perspective, The Summer We Fell Apart was divided into sections which almost, yet don’t quite, overlap. The first to be heard from — and the only one written in first person — is 17-year old Amy as Robin explains:

“I wrote the character of Amy in first person because as the youngest, she is very “‘me'” centered. It is simply the characteristic of the teenager that the world revolves around them — and first person really allowed Amy to grow from a teenager when the book opens to a late twenty-something. Amy will always be the baby. I tried all of the characters in first (as I also wrote Amy in 3rd) but in the end it felt like too much noise to have everyone as first. Their personalities didn’t dictate that in your face storytelling as Amy’s did — and given their problems and neurosis — it’s probably for the better.”

What’s even better is being able to Read an excerpt of Amy’s story.

While the video of family home movies reveals a partial background for The Summer We Fell Apart, the actual novel almost reads like a script from a “well done” TV reality series. Robin Antalek’s words flow with passionate thoughts and feelings. Amy, George, Kate. Finn and their mother talk while the reader listens…captivated. With a breathtaking attention to detail, the author also shows the most intimate of personal behavior as if she had filmed the scenes. To read this novel is to feel a bit voyeuristic, yet it’s impossible to turn away because the author has succeeded in making you care.

In her guest post, Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters, she notes:

“Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay?”

Yes they are THAT real and this debut novelist has given us all a wonderful opportunity to get to know, understand, and spend time with them in their world. Although The Summer We Fell Apart is filled with personal trials and past failures, it is also based on hope — that love forever binds to offer strength as well as direction. If you’re looking for a memorable summer read, Robin Antalek has written it for you…enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.