The winners from last week’s Dreams Coming True post with Laura Wrede are Kaye Whitney (for the book), Lola2Four, and Jennifer Pederson (for the prints). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
The world is full of people who seem to have it all together. I like to think I speak for the rest of us.
I’m a Christian, a wife, a mother, an author, a speaker, and an advocate for individuals with special needs. Two out of four of my daughters have Down syndrome. Polly was born in Ukraine in 2006 when we lived there as missionaries, and Evangeline was adopted from Ukraine three years later in 2009. I write and speak about parenting kids with special needs, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption.
My memoir, Sun Shine Down, was just published in August with T. S. Poetry Press.
When did this creative dream begin?
The dream of writing a book about my daughter Polly and her diagnosis of Down syndrome started when she was around two years old. I remember it well. We were on vacation, and the kids were tucked away in bed. Our relatives we were staying with had a hot tub, and my husband, Sergei, and I were enjoying a night soak. “Sergei, I think I want to write a book,” I whispered. “Let’s do it,” my husband responded. That’s how it began.
How did this project/idea get started?
E. M. Forster said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” I am a life-long journal keeper, but after the birth of Polly and her diagnosis of Down syndrome, writing became a necessity. The first year of her life I wrestled a hallowing grief over the child I expected and the mother I was to become on the page.
My journaling delved deeper as my daughter grew. Images, situations, and details bobbed up to the surface of my conscious. A fear of brokenness—broken people, broken things, and ultimately, my own broken heart, had been tucked inside me since childhood. I wrote, and a thought nagged. Perhaps these words were meant to be read by others?
A memoir emerged.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
I think its honesty. I am a pastor’s wife and a former missionary, but Sun Shine Down chronicles the first two years of my daughter Polly’s life without leaving out the hard parts. I grieved the child I expected, and it is all written down. I struggled with loving her, questioning God, and drinking too much Chardonnay to numb the pain. I think Christians need to know that God’s grace covers it all . . . so I wrote about it all.
What are the goals and intentions of this book?
I want people to buy the book and read it, and to be changed and encouraged. I want special-needs parents to know they are not alone and believers to know they don’t have to pretend to be perfect. Ultimately, I want to glorify God with the story he has written in my life.
How does your book create community?
Every time someone contacts me and says, “Oh, my goodness, I thought I was the only one,” whether it is about over-drinking as a Christian, struggling with a special-needs diagnosis, or taking off our masks and really showing the depths of God’s grace, well, to me, that creates true community. That’s the kind of community I need. That’s the kind of community I want to help foster in my writing.
Many have creative ideas but then have trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Keep going. Essentially, I started Sun Shine Down at Polly’s birth with journaling. She is now seven years old, and the book was just published. For writers, keep your butt in the chair, and don’t forget to build your platform as a writer as you go. Remind yourself why you are doing this, often.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process?
As I wrote the first draft of my memoir, I joined a writing class here in Chicago. Collaboration and critique greatly helped form the arch of my story. After the first draft, I hired a professional editor to work through my book with me. Then, I sat down, wrote the second draft, and hired a different editor to do the same thing. By the time I was ready to show my memoir to agents, it had been worked through twice within the span of about four years. I’d say, take your time and look for collaboration so you can hone your craft, and trust that your book or product is the best it can be before getting it out into the world.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
It took about a year and a half to find a publisher who would take on an unknown memoir writer. That was hard.
What have you learned?
Don’t lose heart. If your work is the best it can be, there will be a place for it in the world. But if you are hurrying the process and if the work isn’t strong, well, it’s doubtful you’ll meet your goal.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
Working with a publisher has been different than I expected. Not bad. Just different. I had no clue about publishing.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project?
I think a lot of people want to author a book but don’t actually love to write/want to write. That’s not going to work. You have to put words down on paper—lots of them—and hold them loosely because if your book eventually publishes, half of those words will change or be omitted.
What are some ways you promote your project?
I have a website (www.gillianmarchenko.com) and I’m active on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. The biggest thing is that I’ve built relationships with the special-needs community for seven years, so now that I have a book out, they are happy and excited to help promote. I also speak a lot to groups of mothers and write articles for magazines and blogs.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
Oh yeah, it is a shock. And it is a ton of work.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
Spamming. You can’t show up online or somewhere else and expect people to want to read your book or help promote it. You need to form relationships. And if you talk too much about your book or project on social media . . . well, people won’t like you.
I’m most active and comfortable on Facebook.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
If you want to be an author, read and write a lot. And show your work to others often. Hone your craft.
Where do you see this project in five years?
I know I am supposed to know . . . but I have no idea.
What’s the one concrete thing (like the flesh) thing you want out of publishing this book?
A cleaning lady, once a month. I have four kids, and I, well, I just want to be able to pay for someone to come clean the floors and the toilet once in a while.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
About Gillian’s Memoir: Sun Shine Down
When an American mom gives birth in Ukraine to a child she never expects, she struggles not to reject her. Grief, depression, alcohol, and fear keep Gillian Marchenko from developing a loving relationship with her daughter Polly who has Down syndrome. Can Polly win her mother’s heart? Sun Shine Down, a memoir, T.S. Poetry Press.
One lucky reader will win a copy of Gillian’s memoir! Just leave a comment! Winner will be announced next week on the Dreams Coming True post!
Do you know of someone whose dream has come true? Is it a dream that helps create community? If so, let me know! I might be able to feature their Dream. Please email (email@example.com).